Shea Weber

NHL players not rushing back to rinks for voluntary skates

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John Tavares took his sticks home from the rink in Toronto to tape them up so he wouldn’t waste his limited time there.

Across the border, Andrew Copp is waiting things out in the U.S. before returning to Winnipeg for the start of mandatory training camps because of Canada’s 14-day quarantine regulation because of the coronavirus pandemic.

NHL players could start participating in voluntary small-group workouts, and teams began opening their training facilities Monday. Players learned Thursday training camps can open July 10, pending an agreement on returning to play later this summer. Now, the players are expected to trickle back in preparation of the resumption of the season.

“We’ve obviously got quite a few of our guys here in town and here at the facility kind of getting on the same page, which is great,” said Tavares, the Maple Leafs’ captain. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are still trying to figure out their situation, but obviously have some very good setups and understand their importance to get things up to speed.”

The announcement of a potential start date for camps comes after the league and players already signed off on a 24-team playoff format, and approved protocol for initial workouts.

Next up will be selecting two hub cities which will play host to the games, with a decision expected to come within the next 10 days.

Of the 10 potential hubs, including three in Canada, Las Vegas is considered a strong candidate, a person familiar with discussions told The Associated Press on Friday night. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because talks are private and the selection process hasn’t been completed.

The league and players must also agree on testing and health-and-safety protocols amid the pandemic before games can resume.

Players started skating by the handful this week in places like Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Edmonton, while some teams waited to open their doors. Veteran Nashville general manager David Poile said that while almost a dozen players remained in the area, the NHL has instructed teams not to ask or encourage players to show up because this stage is voluntary.

GMs expect players to adjust along the way.

“Every situation will be different and unique depending on what they have available to them in the areas they are at,” New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello said. “No different than a normal training camp when some players come in two weeks ahead of time because they don’t have the ice time in their area that maybe they can get here, and then other players will wait because they’re working out with a lot of players in the area they’re at.”

There might be a higher volume of participation in places like Toronto, with more players naturally in town. Sidney Crosby and some Penguins teammates are already on the ice at their shiny practice rink, and the Blue Jackets reported eight or nine players skating daily in different groups.

Up to six players are allowed on the ice at a time with a coach. Tavares described the slice of normalcy as “a breath of fresh air” even as others around the league opted to stay home and skate on their own.

“I’m not sure exactly how much you can do together out there to get a whole lot out of it,” Montreal captain Shea Weber said. “Who really knows, to be honest with you. There’s so many uncertainties with everything that’s going on, with everything that might be going forward here.”

Now that there’s a July 10 date to start camps, there could soon be a flood of players lacing up their skates and returning to their home cities. Canada requires anyone entering the country to quarantine for two weeks, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the same for those returning to the U.S.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said 17% of players are overseas. Many are in Sweden and, as a result, have been able to skate for several weeks.

“If a player went back to Finland and he’s been training and ready to go and he comes back to Nashville and he has to sit at home for 14 days, that kind of defeated the whole purpose of going home in the first place,” Poile said.

Copp said recently from Michigan he was considering relocating to Florida to get his skating legs back but would try to wait out Canada’s quarantine before trying to get back to the Jets’ facility.

“I need to be on the ice,” Copp said. “We are building up right now. I’ve been training off the ice and I feel like going back and sitting in my apartment for two straight weeks in Winnipeg is not going to be good for me, mentally or physically.”

NHL Awards: Bobby Ryan, Oskar Lindblom among 2020 Masterton nominees

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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.

Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Miller
Arizona Coyotes: Conor Garland
Boston Bruins: Kevan Miller
Buffalo Sabres: Curtis Lazar
Calgary Flames: Mark Giordano
Carolina Hurricanes: James Reimer
Chicago Blackhawks: Corey Crawford
Colorado Avalanche: Ryan Graves
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nathan Gerbe
Dallas Stars: Stephen Johns
Detroit Red Wings: Robby Fabbri
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid
Florida Panthers: Noel Acciari
Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick
Minnesota Wild: Alex Stalock
Montreal Canadiens: Shea Weber
Nashville Predators: Jarred Tinordi
New Jersey Devils: Travis Zajac
New York Islanders: Thomas Hickey
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist
Ottawa Senators: Bobby Ryan
Philadelphia Flyers: Oskar Lindblom
Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin
St. Louis Blues: Jay Bouwmeester
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton
Tampa Bay Lightning: Alex Killorn
Toronto Maple Leafs: Zach Hyman
Vancouver Canucks: Jacob Markstrom
Vegas Golden Knights: Shea Theodore
Washington Capitals: Michal Kempny
Winnipeg Jets: Mark Letestu

Robin Lehner of the Rangers — sorry, Islanders — won the 2019 award after sharing his struggle with alcohol and mental illness.

There are a number of good cases to be made for players. Johns missed 22 months due to headaches and returned this season to play 17 games; Fabbri suffered two major knee injuries, returned, moved on to Detroit and had a nice season with 14 goals and 31 points; Bouwmeester suffered a cardiac event during a February game; Lindblom has not played for the Flyers since December as he fights Ewing sarcoma; and Ryan stepped away from the Senators to deal with an alcohol problem and netted a hat trick in his first home game back.

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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 Power Rankings: Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?

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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.

But in your heart of hearts, can you truly dismiss how fun it could be to see “Carey Price vs. Sidney Crosby” in headlines? Especially when you can throw Evgeni Malkin in the mix? Then maybe Brendan Gallagher to add some humorous wrinkles on TikTok?

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.

2. Oilers vs. Blackhawks

When in doubt, go with star power. You could do a lot worse than Connor McDavid vs. Patrick Kane. Heck, you could do worse than Leon Draisaitl vs. Jonathan Toews, too.

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.

Even with tempered expectations, the Jets and Flames bring a lot to the table. Matthew Tkachuk has all of that pent-up pest energy from the pandemic pause. Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine can fill up highlight reels. Mark Giordano vs. Blake Wheeler would be fun.

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.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
Bruins
Lightning
Capitals
Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
Blues
Avalanche
Golden Knights
Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

MORE POWER RANKINGS:

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.

A best on best mythical tournament: Players that missed the cut

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament. The first teams created were a 23-and-under, players in their prime and players 30-and-older.

While the other teams in this mythical competition secured the best players from each age bracket, there were still plenty of high-impact players available to form another super team. This roster was able to take a unique combination of characteristics from players of all ages and create a team that is very well-balanced. They have the star power to skate stride for stride with the other teams in the tournament, and the depth to not only survive a long series but potentially thrive.

Line Combinations

First line: J.T. MillerSteven StamkosVladimir Tarasenko

Thoughts: It was surprising to slide Miller onto the top line, but he has finally lived up to his potential playing with elite talent on the Vancouver Canucks. He is 17th in the league with 72 points this season and skating alongside two highly skilled players should only increase his offensive production. Tarasenko has missed most of the season with a shoulder injury but his body of work speaks for itself.

Second line: Anders LeeJohn TavaresPhil Kessel

Thoughts: Lee had his only 40-goal season playing alongside John Tavares two years ago with the New York Islanders and has remained one of the league’s best net-front presences since No. 91 signed with Toronto. Patrick Kane echoed Mathew Barzal’s suggestion that Lee was one of the best puck tippers in the entire NHL. Kessel should also add an element of speed and an ability to score to balance out this dangerous trio.

Third line: Elias PetterssonAleksander BarkovWilliam Nylander

Thoughts: All three of these players are on the cusp of being superstars and each one should have a sizeable chip on his shoulder. This tournament would be a perfect opportunity for these players to elevate their status from up-and-coming players to established stars. Barkov has the entire skillset to bring out the best in each of his linemates on both ends of the ice.

Fourth line: Ondrej PalatSean CouturierTom Wilson

Thoughts: Wilson was an interesting player to include in this tournament, but he has proven in the past that he possesses the offensive skill to go along with his tough style of play. Couturier has become one of the top shutdown centers in the league and will be a contender for the Selke trophy for years to come. All three individuals understand the commitment it takes to be sharp in their own end of the ice without diminishing their offensive abilities.

First D pairing: Quinn HughesShea Weber

Second D pairing: Ivan ProvorovErik Karlsson

Third D pairing: Miro HeiskanenBrent Burns

Thoughts: There is not much else you need on a blueline but the biggest question facing this collection of defensemen: is Hughes is ready to handle top line minutes against the high-scoring lines from the opposition? If not, Provorov and Heiskanen are more than capable of sliding up the lineup and the group has more than enough talent to compete against any combination of forwards.

Starting Goalie: Carey Price

Backup Goalie: John Gibson

Just Missed (again): Nicklas Backstrom, Brock Boeser, Tyler Seguin, Ryan Suter, Jonathan Toews

Captain: Shea Weber

Alternate captains: John Tavares, Steven Stamkos

Coach: We have not had this category for our other teams, but is there a better coach in the league to motivate players passed over than John Tortorella? He didn’t have much success with Team USA in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, but his performance behind the Blue Jackets’ bench this season has been superb after the departure of several key stars.

Analysis

Even though these players missed the cut for the initial rosters, this group of misfits is still a formidable team that could stand its ground against the competition. Whether its firepower, depth, size, speed, skill, toughness or any other critical characteristic a team needs to compete, this group of players is not lacking in any department. Without the restrictions of players fitting into a certain age bracket, this team has a strong mix of diverse skillsets.

One characteristic that stands out amongst this group is their size. Each line has a strong net-front presence and the ability to pin a team in their own zone for long stretches of time.

Despite the collection of prolific talent there are a few questions up front. Was Miller a one-hit wonder in Vancouver playing on the top line or can he replicate his production from this past season alongside Stamkos and Tarasenko? Will Tavares and Lee instantly find their chemistry?

Similarly to the 30-and-over team, can the third line win matchups against the top lines from the opposition? In addition, can the veterans on the blueline bring out the best in the three young lefties in the defensive group?

Even though there are plenty of questions and these players were pushed aside from the original rosters, this group has a legitimate shot to win the tournament.

Surprising omissions

Brock Boeser: It was a close call between him and Nylander for the third-line right-winger position, but the Canucks forward has not established himself as an elite winger just yet. In a few years this could be a very different discussion but at the current time, Nylander has been the more dynamic player.

Ryan Suter: A solid minutes-eating defenseman is an ingredient any roster could use during this tournament, but the other three left-handed shot defensemen were harder to omit. Suter’s veteran presence will be missed but Hughes, Provorov, and Heiskanen have developed into elite defenseman faster than anticipated.

Jonathan Toews: The captain of the Chicago Blackhawks has justifiably developed a reputation as one of the top two-way centermen in the NHL. He was within striking distance of crossing the 70-point mark for the second consecutive season. Toews was a very tough player to leave off the roster, but Couturier and Barkov are just a cut above.


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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Nashville Predators

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 Nashville Predators.

Nashville Predators

Record: 35-26-8 (69 games), fifth in the Central Division, eighth in the Western Conference
Leading Scorer: Roman Josi — 65 points (16 goals and 49 assists)

In-Season Transactions:

• Acquired Michael McCarron from the Montreal Canadiens for Laurent Dauphin.
• Traded Miikka Salomaki to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Ben Harpur.
• Acquired Korbinian Holzer from the Anaheim Ducks for Matt Irwin.

Season Overview:

Even though they went from Shea Weber, to P.K. Subban, to Steven Santini over the last few seasons, the Predators still have one of the stronger group of defensemen in the NHL. Captain Roman Josi was having a season to remember, as he was leading the team in scoring at the time of the pause. They still have Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm on their blue line and Dante Fabbro has become a full-time NHLer. That’s a solid group.

There’s a couple of issues with their roster though. First, they’ve invested some good money into some of their forwards and some of them just aren’t delivering consistently enough. Last summer, they gave Matt Duchene a seven-year deal worth $8 million per season. In his first year with the Preds, he managed to pick 13 goals and 42 points in 66 games. Not enough production there, but it’s his first year with a new team. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The other forward that seems to under-achieve every other year is Ryan Johansen. To acquire Johansen from Columbus a few years ago, it cost general manager David Poile Seth Jones. Yeah, that trade hasn’t panned out too well. Johansen had 14 goals and 36 points in 68 games. Despite his disappointing campaign, you can’t give up on a 27-year-old center with the kind of size that he possess.

The bottom line is that they need more offense from their forwards. It’s a must. It’s odd to see that two of their defensemen are listed among their top four scorers this season. And Ellis, who has 38 points in 2019-20, missed 20 games due to injury.

The other problem was Pekka Rinne‘s dip in play between the pipes. Look, Rinne was a terrific goaltender for a number of years, but he was going to take a step back at some point. The 37-year-old has an 18-14-4 record with a 3.17 goals-against-average and a .895 save percentage.

Those are the two biggest issues and it’s the reasons why their position in the playoffs was far from safe. Technically, the Preds would get into the postseason if it started today, but only because they had one more regulation win than Vancouver. They were that close to missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14.

Big decisions will have to be made whenever the off-season starts. They let go of head coach Peter Laviolette during the season and replaced him with John Hynes, but more changes might happen. Who do they keep? Who do they unload? The roster is getting older.

Highlight of the Season:

As much as Rinne has struggled this season, we can’t deny that he had the highlight of the year for the Preds. It occurred on Jan. 9 against the Chicago Blackhawks when he fired the puck into an empty net.

Goalie goals are always the best.

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.