Thomas Chabot

Jake’s Back: Pause opens door for Pens’ All-Star Guentzel

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PITTSBURGH — Jake Guentzel‘s roller-coaster season is about to take another unlikely turn: postseason participant.

The Penguins All-Star forward has joined a handful of teammates on the ice as part of Phase 2 of the NHL’s Return to Play program and figures to be ready when Pittsburgh faces Montreal in the opening round of the playoffs sometime this summer.

Guentzel’s breakout year appeared to be over when he took an awkward spill on Dec. 30 following his 20th goal of the season. He crashed into the end boards a split-second after collecting his 200th career point when he accidentally tripped over the stick of Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot.

The 25-year-old – whose play during the opening months kept Pittsburgh afloat amid myriad injuries to high-profile players – clutched his side as he skated to the bench and underwent surgery the following day. With his rehab expected to last until late April or early May, Guentzel feared he might not be back until 2020-21.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the NHL to pause its season in mid-March and giving Guentzel an unexpected window to return.

”Not sure what would have happened if the season would have played out,” Guentzel said Wednesday.

Under normal conditions, Guentzel would have needed the Penguins to advance at least one round and maybe two in the playoffs if he wanted to have a shot at rejoining the club. This season, however, has been anything but normal.

His availability gives Pittsburgh another proven postseason performer. His innate hockey sense and instant rapport with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby helped Guentzel score 13 goals during the 2017 playoffs as Pittsburgh captured its second straight Stanley Cup.

The team Guentzel returns to could look a bit like the one that defeated Nashville in six games in the finals three years ago. During Guentzel’s absence, the team brought back winger Conor Sheary, who played on the ”Sid and the Kids” line in the 2016-17 season.

”We feed off each other, we know each other,” Guentzel said. ”If we have that opportunity, hopefully we have time to get that chemistry back.”

There’s still a long way to go to get to that point. Then again, the fact that it’s even on the table for Guentzel is promising. The joy of being named to the All-Star team on Dec. 30 for the first time was replaced hours later by pain and doubt as he skated to the bench clutching his right shoulder after smacking into the boards.

”You’re not really sure what the severity of the injury is,” Guentzel said. ”Just tried to get off the ice and get back to the locker room as fast as I can, because I knew something wasn’t good. In my head it was a blur. It was hard to go through something like that.”

He is still reticent to get into specifics surrounding the nature of the injury, saying only ”from what I heard, it was pretty significant” while remaining thankful he was able to get his head and neck out of harm’s way before the crash.

While listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Guentzel is comfortable putting his body in harm’s way against bigger defenders. He is not sure if he’ll be hesitant to mix it up whenever contact is allowed.

”It might be there, it’s just hard to think about right now and hard to process,” Guentzel said.

It’s hardly the only thing Guentzel is having trouble wrapping his mind around. He grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs. The death of George Floyd at the hands of white police officers last month – and the ensuing wave of protests and call for change in the aftermath – has been eye-opening for a player who is typically economical with his words, preferring his actions to do the talking for him.

Not so much anymore. He called the manner of Floyd’s death ”disturbing.”

”My eyes have definitely been open and I’m definitely committed to educating myself and making a difference out there,” Guentzel said.

It’s not the only area in which Guentzel and the rest of the NHL are getting an education. The league is trying to be pragmatic about its health protocols as it attempts to resume the season. Still, there are several issues that need to be settled. And for players whose mental and physical health rely so heavily on routine, there remains a sense of wariness about what lies ahead.

”It’s hard for us to not know what is going on with all this unknown of this COVID,” Guentzel said. ”I think we’re all a little on edge as to what is going to happen.”

NHL Awards: Draisaitl, Ovechkin among regular season winners

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Now that we know the NHL’s Return to Play format, Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the 2019-20 regular season is considered over. That means all records and stats are final.

But what about those eight Qualifying Round series? That discussion is on-going, but if they were to count they would be considered playoff statistics.

That means we have a definitive answer to some regular season awards.

Handing out a few trophies

Alex Ovechkin and David Pastrnak share the Rocket Richard Trophy with 48 goals. It’s the ninth win for the Capitals captain and first for the Bruins forward. This is the third time the award will be shared and first since Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby tied with 51 goals in 2009-10.

• Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl wins his first Art Ross Trophy with 110 points. He was the only player to reach the 100-point mark and finished 13 points ahead of teammate Connor McDavid, who hit his jersey number, 97. Draisaitl also led the league with 67 assists and in posts/crossbars hit with 14.

[MORE: NHL announces return-to-play plans]

• The Bruins are the 2019-20 Presidents’ Trophy winners. They led the league with 100 points at the time of the March 12 pause and also own the best points percentage (.714) among all NHL teams. This is the third time they’ve won the award and first since the 2013-14 season.

Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak will share the William M. Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed since they both played at least 25 games. The tandem allowed 167 goals in 70 games played (2.39 goals allowed per game).

Other statistical notes

• Ovechkin will be denied a ninth 50-goal season. The Capitals had 13 games remaining on their schedule.

• McDavid will fall short of his fourth-straight 100-point season. Artemi Panarin (95), David Pastrnak (95), and Nathan MacKinnon (93) were all primed to hit 100 points for the first time in their careers.

• The Sabres will miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season. They played their last game on March 9, meaning it could be a very long off-season if we’re not seeing a 2020-21 season begin until November or December, at the earliest.

• Oh, what could have been for the Sabres. According to the NHL on NBC research team, if Buffalo had beat Montreal in regulation on March 12 (the day of the NHL pause), they would have jumped the Canadiens in terms of points percentage and would be set to play the Penguins.

• Detroit owns the top odds (18.5%) in the first lottery draw for the No. 1 overall pick.

• How good are Brady Tkachuk and Brad Marchand at getting under the skins of opponents? They led the NHL in penalties draw with 47 and 45, respectively.

• Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot is your ice time leader, averaging 22:30 per game. That’s 2:54 more than Drew Doughty, who finished second.

• Finally, David Rittich of the Flames is your shootout king with a 6-0 record and only two goals allowed on 21 shots against.

MORE:
NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans
Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?

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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.

Roundtable: Which non-playoff team has the brightest future?

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Which non-playoff team’s future do you feel most confident about?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: The Senators’ future could be real bright if they’re allowed the resources to develop their prospect pool and manage to keep them in Ottawa.

What the Senators have been able to do over the last few years is build up a prospect cupboard that could form an extremely talented core down the line. Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Colin White have established themselves as roster regulars under age 22. Drake Batherson, Erik Brannstrom, and Logan Brown were given decent looks this season, but there’s more coming.

Alex Formenton and Josh Norris were named to the AHL’s 2019-20 All-Rookie Team and were First (Norris) and Second (Formenton) Team All-Stars with Belleville. Vitaly Abramov also had a strong year with the Baby Sens, while Jacob Bernard-Docker could be an offensive weapon from the blue line in the future.

One of the Senators’ biggest areas of need will be in net. Filip Gustavsson and Marcus Hogberg look to be next after Craig Anderson‘s time comes to an end.

That’s a decent amount of names we could be seeing in Ottawa over the next few seasons. But wait — there could be more! GM Pierre Dorion has managed to stock pile up to nine picks in the opening three rounds of the 2020 draft. Not to mention four in the first two rounds in 2021. Some of those picks could be used in trades to bulk up the roster, of course, which shows the Senators are pointed in the right direction. They just have to follow the correct route.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: When in doubt, go with youth, so I lean toward the Devils.

First and foremost, they already have two really good young forwards in fellow first overall picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. The Devils recently extended Hischier to a reasonable deal, while they get to enjoy the luxury of Hughes having two more years on his rookie contract.

Such saving means that P.K. Subban‘s $9M price tag doesn’t hurt quite as much.

Beyond that, the Devils also have a lot of ammo to improve. They currently own three first-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft, and at least two of those figure to be pretty good choices. The Devils could either add to their crop of prospects, move those picks in creative deals to get better sooner, or do a bit of both. New Jersey has cap space to either seek free agents or trades, too.

Now, the Devils have a lot of work to do, including deciding if Tom Fitzgerald gets to take “interim” off of his GM title. Goaltending and defense remain massive problems, and they sure could use more scoring depth, as well.

But at least the Devils have some building blocks in place. Also, the Senators have similar opportunities, yet they also have Eugene Melnyk as their owner. I’ll take the Devils in that duel, even if I can’t help but wonder about their ownership situation, too.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The pause couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Kings, for two reasons. First, they had won seven games in a row – the league’s longest active winning streak. Second, the streak had pushed them down a couple spots in the lottery race. So they lost the chance to build even more momentum heading into the offseason, while also hurting their chances to win the No. 1 overall pick.

All that said, there should be serious optimism about the direction of the team. At the NHL level, there appear to be prime years left for Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and yes, perhaps even Jonathan Quick (from November on, he posted a 2.38 GAA and .916 SV%). Unheralded younger players like Alex Iafallo (17 goals, 43 points) and Matt Roy (team-leading +16) are becoming legitimate contributors. A big question was answered when oft-injured former first-rounder Gabe Vilardi finally made his NHL debut, and looked like he belonged scoring 7 points in 10 games. In small sample sizes each of the past two seasons, Cal Petersen has showed starter-level talent between the pipes.

With no key players on expiring contracts, GM Rob Blake has plenty of cap space (north of $23M) to work with this offseason. Could Los Angeles be a darkhorse destination for Taylor Hall?

But the biggest reason for confidence: the loaded prospect pool. The Kings have arguably the best non-NHL talent of any organization. They sent nine players to the 2020 World Juniors – most of any team – and from that group came the tournament’s leading goal and point scorer Samuel Fagemo, as well as Canada’s golden goal scorer Akil Thomas. Plus, with 6 picks in the first 3 rounds this year, things only stand to improve.

The big question for Kings fans: can enough of these prospects develop into quality NHL players while Kopitar and Doughty remain top-end talents? If so, LA may have what it takes to contend for a Cup once again.

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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.

What is the Senators’ long-term outlook?

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Ottawa Senators.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Outside of Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot, the Senators will be searching for a new core in the coming years. Due to the failures of the San Jose Sharks this past season, the Senators have two premium picks in the upcoming draft, including the second-and third-best odds to land the top selection per the current standings. In addition, they have six picks in the second and third round if they want to move up in the draft or acquire additional talent.

Similar to other rebuilding franchises, the tough decisions are looming. Their farm system has a number of potential pieces, but general manager Pierre Dorion needs to find a few difference makers.

Ottawa wisely signed Chabot to a long-term extension prior to the season and will most likely try to lock up Tkachuk this upcoming summer.

Colin White, a 23-year-old, has five years remaining on his contract upon the conclusion of this season and will likely play a central role in the years to come. For the next few seasons, the primary focus will be on player development not on-ice results.

Outside of Bobby Ryan’s contract which lasts until the end of the 2021-22 season, the Senators do not have a salary cap issue. Dorion could wisely use his cap space to acquire additional draft capital, or overpaid NHL players on the cheap as long as he does not exceed the internal budget.

While the Senators will not be making the Stanley Cup playoffs in the immediate future, they do have endless potential with a treasure trove of draft picks and valuable cap space. The biggest question ownership will face is if Dorion is the right general manager to lead them out of the abyss.

Long-Term Needs

The Senators have a need at every position. Chabot has proven himself to be an elite defenseman and Nikita Zaitsev is an NHL-caliber blueliner, but the team will need to develop or acquire a lot more talent.

Anthony Duclair is the type of player the Senators should be currently looking to fill their roster with for the short-term future. Ottawa could give players ample ice-time and special teams opportunities that other teams do not have patience for. Think of players such as former first-round pick Joshua Ho-Sang that are looking for a chance to prove themselves after a rough start to their career.

Long-Term Strengths

It was mentioned above, but the greatest strength of the Senators organization is the arsenal of draft picks and salary-cap flexibility. They have three first-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft and 10 picks in the second and third round over the next two seasons. The decisions made this offseason and next will likely define the success of the franchise in the next decade.

MORE ON THE SENATORS:


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.

Crosby, Ovechkin among NHL stars helping CCM donate 500,000 surgical masks

CCM plans to donate 500,000 surgical masks for COVID-19 healthcare workers
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Hockey equipment company CCM announced plans to donate 500,000 surgical masks to healthcare workers. CCM states that they hope to donate the surgical masks “as early as the week of April 27.” They also stated that Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and other CCM endorsers helped make the donation possible.

“By teaming up with our roster of CCM athletes, we will be able to play a role in the collaborative effort to get past this crisis,” CCM Hockey CEO Rick Blackshaw said in a statement. “We focused on the best use of our network and our resources to have the quickest impact. Sourcing greatly needed equipment through our established supply chain partners in Asia is the most efficient way for us to support and keep our real heroes safe.”

CCM revealed the list of hockey players involved in the initiative: Mathew Barzal, Patrice Bergeron, Brock Boeser, Dani Cameranesi, Brandon Carlo, Thomas Chabot, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Sidney Crosby, Melodie Daoust, Alex DeBrincat, Brianna Decker, Matt Duchene, Matt Dumba, Marc-Andre Fleury, Filip Forsberg, Jake Gardiner, Miro Heiskanen, Filip Hronek, Jonathan Huberdeau, Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Charlie McAvoy, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Artemi Panarin, Carey Price, Vladimir Tarasenko, and John Tavares.

CCM’s plan to donate surgical masks adds to list of contributions from hockey world

This continues atrend of hockey teams, players, and companies contributing in different ways to help people during the coronavirus crisis.

Bauer recently announced its own initiatives (with help from Jack Eichel) involving manufacturing face shields. Bauer even provided instructions on how to make the shields on their website. Mary-Kay Messier explained Bauer’s plans during a recent episode of the Our Line Starts podcast.

Earlier this month, Islanders players helped to donate more than 3,000 N-95 masks to assist local causes.

NHL teams have also taken measures to pay employees during the coronavirus pause, among other meaningful efforts.

None of this erases the sacrifices healthcare workers are making. And this still figures to be a lengthy, difficult process. But it’s fantastic to see many in the hockey world rise to the occasion, CCM included.

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.