Zach Hyman

Dale Tallon out as Panthers’ GM after 10 seasons

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The Panthers will have a new general manager next season after the team and Dale Tallon came to a “mutual agreement” to part ways.

“For the last decade, Dale raised the team’s profile, attracted key players to South Florida and brought character and class to our franchise,” said Panthers owner and Governor Vincent Viola. “When we purchased the Panthers in 2013, we did so with a singular goal-to win a Stanley Cup. We have not seen our efforts come to fruition. We will now begin an organizational search for the next General Manager.”

Tallon was hired as GM in May 2010 and watched the teams he built make the postseason three times. Two of those playoff appearances were ended by the Islanders, including last week’s defeat in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. After a year in an executive position, he came back as GM in 2017 following an organizational shakeup.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The playoff berths were few, but the head coaches were plenty. In Tallon’s decade in control he went through seven coaches, starting with Peter DeBoer and finishing with Joel Quenneville.

Monday night brings a bit of hope for the franchise’s future. Their loss in the Qualifying Round means they are one of eight teams with a 12.5% chance at landing the No. 1 overall draft pick and top prospect Alexis Lafreniere. The prospect pool could use a few more pieces. Under Tallon, the Panthers have drafted the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau (2011, No. 3), Vincent Trochek (2011, No. 64 – dealt in February), Aleksander Barkov (2013, No. 2), and Aaron Ekblad (2014, No. 1). Zach Hyman and Joonas Donskoi were also Florida picks, but they never ended up playing for the franchise.

Free agency was a different issue for Tallon, and one of his final signings could hinder the franchise for the next decade. Sergei Bobrovsky, 31, signed a 10-year, $70M free agent contract last summer. The move filled a hole on the roster, but with the salary cap not rising any time soon, that cap hit will hurt them as the netminder’s production trends downward.

Since the 2020-21 NHL season won’t begin until Dec. 1 at the earliest, Viola and team president Matthew Caldwell will have plenty of time to conduct a broad search for Tallon’s successor.

MORE: 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round 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.

Maple Leafs force Game 5, stay alive thanks to unbelievable comeback

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The Toronto Maple Leafs were four minutes away from being completely buried.

Four minutes away from having the longest offseason this core of players had ever had to deal with in terms of criticism and scrutiny.

Four minutes away from maybe dealing with the possibility of major changes coming to a team that — to this point — has been unable to get over the hump in the postseason.

That is when the madness started.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just 24 hours after blowing a three-goal lead to lose in overtime, the Maple Leafs flipped the script and erased a three-goal deficit with four minutes to play in regulation to force overtime. It was there that they completed one of the most improbable comebacks in postseason history when Auston Matthews scored a power play to give the Maple Leafs a 4-3 win.

And with that, everything comes down to a winner-take-all Game 5 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET – NBCSN) for the right to advance to the field of 16 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It really cannot be overstated as to how insane all of this was, and the perfect confluence of events that needed to happen for Toronto to win this game.

For 56 minutes the Maple Leafs were unable to solve Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins, and when Boone Jenner scored with under seven minutes to play in the third period to give his team a three-goal lead everything seemed over in Toronto.

But with Frederik Andersen pulled for the extra attacker, Toronto started to chip away.

William Nylander started the comeback with 3:57 to play when he scored a goal that — at the time — seemed to be pointless window dressing.

When John Tavares scored less than a minute later to cut the deficit to one, things really started to get interesting.

Even then Toronto needed some extra help to go its way.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Game 3 hero for Columbus, had an opportunity to put the game away with an empty-net sitting in front of him, only to have his shot hit the outside of the net. Just a few moments later, Gustav Nyquist failed to gain the red line with the puck when he could have taken a shot at another empty net and gave the puck away, giving Toronto another chance.

The Maple Leafs did not waste the chance. With just 23 seconds to play in regulation Zach Hyman scored the game-tying goal to send the game to overtime. Matthews scored midway through the period, capitalizing on a Nick Foligno tripping penalty.

During their late third period comeback Toronto had the same combination of players on the ice: Matthews, Nylander, Tavares, Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman, and Morgan Rielly.

With that, Toronto now has a chance to salvage what could have been a disastrous postseason appearance. And who knows, if they lose Game 5 on Sunday all of the things mentioned up at the top (the criticism, the scrutiny, the potential changes) could still happen. This is, after all, a team that is supposed to compete for a Stanley Cup. Losing in the play-in round after three straight Round 1 exits would be awful for the perception of this core. But this win gives them a chance to fight another day and change the narrative around this team. If they do manage to do that and go on a postseason run from here, those four minutes are going be talked about for years.

As for Columbus, well, this has the potential to be the stuff of nightmares.

They had this game — and the series — all but won. If you go buy the win probability stat, they had a 99.3 percent chance of winning this game with five minutes to play.

All they had to do was avoid a meltdown, and they would have been a giant slayer for the second year in a row. But the meltdown happened.

The Blue Jackets were never supposed to be in this position this season after losing Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene to free agency, and then dealing with a season-long run of injuries. No one would have blamed them or given it a second thought if they badly regressed or fell off the map. If they are unable to bounce back in Game 5 on Sunday this is going to be the game that will be impossible for them to shake. It was right there. They had it.

Now it all comes down to Sunday.

Honestly, it is the perfect game — and perfect series — for the unpredictable mayhem that the 2019-20 season has been.

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 2-2)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Blue Jackets 4, Maple Leafs 3 [OT] (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs 4, Blue Jackets 3 [OT]
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs (if necessary), TBD

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Maple Leafs even series with Game 2 shutout; Muzzin stretchered off

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[UPDATE: Muzzin is out for the remainder of the series.]

For most of the opening 40 minutes, it looked at if Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo was going to steal another one against the Maple Leafs. After his 28-save Game 1 shutout, he followed that up by stopping 36 shots in Game 2, but the Columbus offense failed to provide any support.

Auston Matthews broke the goalless tie late in the second period as Toronto evened their best-of-five series with a 3-0 victory. Frederik Andersen, who wasn’t tested all that much, finished with 20 saves.

The Maple Leafs dominated across the board. They controlled possession (62%-38%), outshot the Blue Jackets at even strength (27-10) (via Natural Stat Trick), and benefited from the Blue Jackets handing them five power plays. But Korpisalo stood tall. Matthews finally provided the breakthrough after redirecting a Zach Hyman pass to finish a give-and-go.

Columbus’ penalty parade continued into the third period. Nick Foligno handed Toronto a power play just 53 seconds in. The Maple Leafs’ didn’t capitalize, going 0-for-5 on the day. The Blue Jackets were still clinging on to hope in finding a tying goal, but an offensive zone breakdown ended with an out-of-reach scoreline.

As the Blue Jackets pressed for an equalizer, all five skaters got caught in deep. That allowed Travis Dermott‘s clearance to go off the side boards and to an unmarked Tavares for a breakaway.

Said John Tortorella: “Toronto was really good. We sucked.”

Game 3 is Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Muzzin leaves on stretcher

With just under two minutes to go, Jake Muzzin had to leave the game on a stretcher. A cross-check from Pierre-Luc Dubois put the Maple Leafs defenseman off-balance and his head collided with Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s knee.

Muzzin was moving his extremities and communicating as he was being checked out.

“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with Jake Muzzin,” said Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski. “No hockey game is as important as someone’s health so we’re thinking of him right now.”

“Very tough to see, especially with just how much you love that guy,” said Tavares afterward.

Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said Muzzin was taken to a local hospital and was responsive.

When Muzzin is ready to return, the Toronto Hub Medical Director will decide quarantine/testing protocols before he’s allowed to re-join the Maple Leafs.

“I’m not certain exactly what the protocol is in these situations,” said Keefe. “Our focus is and always will be on his well-being and that he’s okay.”

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

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 Camp News and Notes: Carter Hart hurt; Bruins, Blackhawks updates

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Let’s rummage through news and notes from around the NHL during day nine of formal training camps.

Flyers’ Carter Hart leaves practice on a goalie-heavy day of news from NHL training camps

Tuesday presented a fairly goalie-heavy slate of news and notes from around NHL training camps.

[NBC and NBCSN TV schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]

Carter Hart hurt, Flyers teammates indicate it might not be serious

If you’ve followed coverage of NHL training camp news at PHT, you realize that teams aren’t being forthcoming with injury updates. Chalk that up to the culture of the league, and even NHL mandates, but it leads to “COVID-19, injury, or restroom run?” debates. None of this is fun.

So we can only speculate about Hart. According to NBC Sports Philly’s Jordan Hall, Hart left quietly during the first period of a Flyers scrimmage. Hall notes that it was unlikely to be an equipment issue, being that Hart did not return.

For fans hoping for optimism, Kevin Hayes‘ comments bring a mixed bag. He seems upbeat about it … but Hayes also didn’t notice that Hart left. Maybe he’s not totally clued-in, yet any insight is welcome as NHL teams prefer the “keep everyone in the fog” approach.

“I think it’s nothing too serious,” Hayes said, via Hall. “Obviously it’s important to get into shape and get game-ready, but if you have something that’s minor that you don’t want to push, it’s not a big deal to get off the ice like that. We’d rather have him be 100 percent than pushing hard at like 85, 90 percent. Probably a smart decision by him. I don’t think it’s anything major.”

Flyers such as Sean Couturier said all the right things about Brian Elliott being capable if Hart is unavailable, but if we’re being honest, it’s tough to be too confident in Elliott at this point in his career.

(Then again, goalies are unpredictable, and the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers may end up even more difficult to forecast.)

Latest round of Bruins updates, including troubling Tuukka news

Being that the Bruins boast plenty of veterans, it’s not that surprising that they’ve been a team to watch for training camp news. Even so, it might be getting a little exhausting for fans, players, and staff alike to try to parse details as David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and others miss training camp activities.

Apparently there was even a Brad Marchand scare on Tuesday.

Marchand and others seem to shake off worries about Pastrnak missing opportunities to shake off rust. Similarly, Tuukka Rask didn’t seem too concerned despite admitting that he suffered a fractured finger while training.

Hmm, none of this seems ideal. At least the Bruins are merely fighting for seeding during the Round Robin portion of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, eh? Also … at least Jaroslav Halak puts up starter-quality numbers too, right?

(Insert cringe emojis where applicable.)

Blackhawks optimistic about Crawford, Toews still missing time

After trading away Robin Lehner, the defense-optional Blackhawks’ ability to upset the Oilers may hinge on whether Corey Crawford can play. That remains unknown, as Crawford hasn’t been involved in Phase 3 yet. When speaking to the media, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman seemed hopeful about Crawford being available.

“We are hopeful on that,” Bowman said, via NBC Sports Chicago. “We’ll be able to give you a better idea toward the weekend. Something we’re still shooting for, but I don’t have any definitive comment. Still hoping that’s the case.”

Jonathan Toews recently joined Crawford in the mystery training camp absence zone. After Toews left team activities early on Monday, Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton insisted that the team is merely trying to keep Toews fresh. Toews missed Tuesday’s training camp action too, though, and this time Colliton defaulted to “unfit to play.”

Hmm.

Other NHL training camp news and notes from day nine

  • Here’s one for the “Thank Goodness” files: Jay Bouwmeester is in Canada, but won’t join the Blues. Considering what Bouwmeester went through, and what he’s accomplished during his lengthy NHL career, it’s probably wisest to hang them up altogether. For now, we’ll settle for cooler heads prevailing in at least this case.
  • Zach Hyman returned to action for the Maple Leafs, who deployed him with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Toronto is rolling with a lot of interesting looks during this stretch of NHL training camps. Selfishly, I’d love to see mad scientist combinations like Matthews, Marner, and John Tavares more often.
  • Speaking of mad science, the Stars continue to flirt with the good (Tyler Seguin with Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz) and the bad (Corey Perry on the second line, while Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov languish on the fourth). Maybe it will be more situational, and thus more logical, than those designations look on paper? Either way, I wouldn’t be thrilled if I was Jamie Benn possibly being saddled with a dramatically declining Corey Perry.
  • Agent Dan Milstein notes that Ilya Sorokin (Islanders) and Alexander Romanov (Canadiens) are both Toronto-bound. Nice news, even if they can’t help their teams until 2020-21 at the earliest.

More on NHL return to play, CBA extension, COVID-19:

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.

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.