2020 NHL Draft

Peter DeBoer not in favor of bye week lottery tournament Golden Knights
Getty Images

Golden Knights’ DeBoer not in favor of bye week (or tournament for top draft pick)

1 Comment

It sounds like Peter DeBoer isn’t fond of some outside-the-box hockey ideas for whenever play might resume. Specifically, DeBoer objected to a) a playoff format that would involve bye week(s) and b) a tournament to determine which team gets the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

DeBoer addressed those issues and more during a March 31 interview with ESPN on Ice’s Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski. The Golden Knights’ head coach also reiterated to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun that he’s not in favor of a “bye” week-type setup on April 3 (sub required).

DeBoer: not in favor of a bye week/more than 16 NHL playoff teams

DeBoer told ESPN on Ice that he wants the Stanley Cup to be awarded in a way that the winning team wouldn’t need an “asterisk.”

Even so, he’d ask the NHL’s planners to thread the needle. DeBoer doesn’t want more than 16 teams in a playoff format, but also wants things to be fair. Around the 28-minute mark of the podcast, DeBoer indicated that he’d prefer sacrificing some rest if it meant that the Golden Knights would be less rusty in a postseason situation.

” … There’s a huge advantage to having played games,” DeBoer said.

Of course, DeBoer calls for a typical format with his Golden Knights ranked first in the Pacific Division. Would he feel the same way if Vegas was ranked outside of the wild card, but with games in hand, or some other fuzzy situation?

Even DeBoer hinted at seeing things differently if his team wasn’t in such a comfortable spot.

“I’m more in favour of the traditional format,” DeBoer said to LeBrun. “Although I understand that we’re not a bubble team and I’m sure for my good friend Paul Maurice (in Winnipeg) it’s different when you’re either just in or just out depending on whether they (use) points percentage or not. But yeah I prefer the traditional route.”

DeBoer shoots down tournament for the top pick

DeBoer made some great points to Kaplan and Wyshynski about the potential downsides of a hypothetical tournament to determine the top pick.

As a coach who’s been behind the bench for some lottery teams, DeBoer addressed the elephant in the room. When you’re suffering through a lousy season, you just want it to end as soon as possible.

Now, some would debate DeBoer’s assertion that fans might not have an “appetite” for a No. 1 pick tournament. Maybe that would be true for fans during a typical season, but under these circumstances, I’d imagine there would be a lot of interest to see a lottery tournament of sorts.

From fans, at least. It would be strange not just for the coaches, but also the players involved. After all, how much should a current player care about their team landing that draft’s top pick? Maybe a “core” player would see the value, but plenty of others 1) wonder if they’ll even play for that team much longer and 2) would view a better pick as a bigger threat to their spot.

There’d be serious cognitive dissonance to playing high-stakes games to possibly hurt your career. After all, a higher draft pick is that much more likely to push players down the depth chart, or off of it altogether. So DeBoer definitely makes some good points.

DeBoer backed up earlier comments made by Los Angeles Kings coach Todd McLellan.

(Then again, players might warm up to the idea if … say, playing a lottery tournament cut down on their money lost from escrow. Just throwing it out there.)

More from DeBoer

That ESPN on Ice interview (from 26-minute mark to 38) is worth your time, as DeBoer also discusses:

  • Load management: DeBoer was asked the question if things get congested between a modified end to 2019-20 while getting in a full 82 games. His general takeaway is that, while not often using healthy scratches, teams already practice subtle load management.

(Personally, I still think NHL teams could do more, and smart ones might benefit in the long run.)

It’s one thing for Brad Marchand to land on such a list. But Cousins is funnier because … well, he might not always walk the walk. At least at the NHL level.

  • Among other things, DeBoer also spoke about the strange transition of becoming Golden Knights head coach after being fired by the hated Sharks. He seems to indicate that it wasn’t as awkward as one might think.

DeBoer gives us a lot to ponder thanks to those two interviews. Do you agree with DeBoer on avoiding a bye week and not having a No. 1 pick tournament?

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Eddie Lack retires; Progress post-pandemic?

Eddie Lack retires from hockey Morning Skate
Getty Images

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• William Douglas mourns Marlowe Stoudamire, who passed away at age 43 because of COVID-19. Stoudamire made a big impact in Detroit, including helping to create the “Learn, Play, Score” program. That $1M program helped bring the sport to about 30,000 children in Detroit. Heartbreaking for sure, but Stoudamire clearly made a big impact on the sport and on his city. (NHL.com)

Eddie Lack retires

• Eddie Lack announced his retirement from hockey with a really wonderful four-part series of videos. For one thing, there’s plenty of humor involved. Kudos to Lack for poking fun at himself for allowing a long-distance goal from Brian McGrattan (!), and Roberto Luongo for poking fun at Lack for a stain.

The thread is particularly worth your time for Canucks fans and/or Swedish hockey fans:

It’s sad to see Eddie Lack retire, being that he’s only 32. As Lack said, though, hip issues weren’t making life any easier, so he’s moving on to a career in real estate.

Eddie Lack last played for the AHL’s Binghamton Devils in 2018-19, and his final NHL action came with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18. So, yeah, it’s fair if your immediate reaction was: “Wait, didn’t Eddie Lack already retire?”

Other NHL/hockey headlines

• The Globe & Mail’s Morgan Campbell takes a look at how the NHL and other leagues might approach things post-pandemic. Could there be some silver linings? Campbell wonders, for instance, if leagues use this as a catalyst to improve ways of experiencing events even while de-emphasizing the in-arena experience. Organizations/leagues who are spry might be most adept at “taking lemons and making lemonade.” (The Globe & Mail)

• Kevin Fiala was never as happy or confident in hockey as he was late in 2019-20 — until the coronavirus pause happened. Even so, he believes that red-hot player we saw wasn’t merely an aberration. Instead, Fiala believes that’s simply what he is now. (Star-Tribune)

• Claude Giroux explains that the Flyers are trying to be positive, rather than frustrated, with the pause. (The Hockey News)

• High-end 2020 NHL Draft prospect Quinton Byfield is only 17. Yet, despite his age and the interruption, Byfield aims for an immediate jump to the NHL next season. He certainly has the size to play with the big boys at 6-foot-4. (TSN)

• In hindsight, Seth Jones made a wise decision in undergoing surgery rather than leaning on natural healing. Thanks to the hiatus, Jones won’t need to rush back, either. This situation is especially advantageous for 2019-20, but maybe also overall? The Blue Jackets can take heart in at least one thing working out well for them with this pause. (1st Ohio Battery)

• Projecting where the Penguins would be at if the season didn’t get paused. (Pensburgh)

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.

Long-term outlook for Blackhawks: salary cap, prospects, and more

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 Chicago Blackhawks.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Both at age 31 with matching $10.5 million cap hits through 2022-23, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews remain the headliners of the Blackhawks’ core.

While Toews in particular isn’t what he once was, the biggest problem is shaky support.

Duncan Keith is far removed from his prime at age 36, yet his contract ($5.54 through 2022-23) lingers. Quite a bit of this structure has broken down, to the point that it would be preferable for both Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw to stay planted on LTIR.

Credit Stan Bowman with trying to improve a shabby defense. Unfortunately, Bowman whiffed with Olli Maatta, Connor Murphy, and Calvin de Haan to varying degrees. Those three contracts stay on the books through 2021-22.

To Bowman’s credit, he’s experienced significant successes finding forward talent, sometimes off the beaten path. While the Blackhawks galaxy-brained themselves out of Artemi Panarin, they locked up Alex DeBrincat to a team-friendly extension.

One key question remains: can the Blackhawks find the cash to re-sign Corey Crawford? Actually, that folds into other questions. Being that Crawford is 35, should they?

Also, will Dominik Kubalik and/or Dylan Strome become core members, or stay in limbo with “bridge” deals. Can Alex Nylander cement himself? The supporting cast continues to go through auditions as if they’re in Chicago’s Broadway.

Long-Term Needs for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks face plenty of long-term needs.

Still, sometimes the biggest needs go deeper than “scoring depth” and “some actual, above-average NHL defensemen.” The Blackhawks organization needs to let go of the past, even if it means some extra suffering in the present. Otherwise, the future could be plagued by half-measures.

It would be understandable if the Blackhawks struck a short-term deal with Corey Crawford. He quietly put together a surprisingly strong 2019-20, particularly down the stretch.

Yet, how many times should Chicago really go to that nostalgia well? (To say nothing of how tough it might be to fit Crawford under the cap, as Mark Lazerus discussed here [sub required].)

This team needs more difference-makers. Adam Boqvist and other prospects figure to boost the competence of Chicago’s crummy defense, but how much?

Ultimately, the Blackhawks need to add “blue chip” talent, and hope that Boqvist, Kirby Dach, and others fall in that category. By trying to enjoy the best of both worlds of competing while getting some young talent, Chicago risks falling short of both marks. They’ve seemingly accrued good-but-not-great talent, and were moderately competitive but not legitimate contenders.

Pull off the Band-Aid already.

Long-Term Strengths for Blackhawks

As mentioned with Panarin and DeBrincat, the Blackhawks have shown some ability to unearth talent even when they didn’t have no-brainer picks like they did with Kane and Toews. (Panarin was a Euro free agent, DeBrincat went 39th overall in 2016). Dominik Kubalik looks like he could be the latest hidden gem.

Such successes have been a bit of a double-edged sword, as referenced in the long-term needs section. By finding ways to be semi-competitive, the Blackhawks have sometimes added good where a “tank” season may have provided great.

Still, there’s decent talent to work with. DeBrincat, Strome, Kubalik, and maybe Nylander can help on offense. Dach’s development is crucial.

Boqvist ranks as vital on defense, too, but he’s not alone. In ranking Chicago’s prospect pool 12th overall (sub required), The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler frequently listed defensemen. Wheeler highlighted Ian Mitchell almost as much as Boqvist, so help could be coming there. Wheeler’s Athletic colleague Corey Pronman placed Chicago’s under-23 core at a respectable 13th, so it’s not as if there’s nothing beyond Kane and Toews.

Lately, “almost” has been in painful supply for Chicago. An optimist might squint and see how things could break the Blackhawks’ way, but improving this long-term outlook will require more long-term thinking.

MORE BLACKHAWKS:
2019-20 season summary
Surprises and disappointments

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.

Chicago Blackhawks: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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 surprises and disappointments for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Putrid power play spoils special teams

Yes, the Blackhawks aren’t the dynastic team they once were. Their defense, in particular, just can’t keep up like it used to.

But there’s still some serious scoring skill on this roster, and it’s not just the obvious in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks clearly nabbed a steal in Alex DeBrincat, while Dylan Strome, Brandon Saad, Dominik Kubalik and others give Chicago strong four-forward options on the PP.

Yet, for whatever reason, the Blackhawks’ power play simply didn’t click in 2019-20.

The Blackhawks received 217 power-play opportunities, the eighth-highest total in the NHL. Chicago squandered far too many of those chances, managing 33 PPG (tied for 23rd in NHL) and 15.2 success rate (28th). The Blackhawks also gave up eight shorthanded goals, tied for seventh-most in the league.

Chicago sits at a -6 goal differential this season, and can chalk that up to its punchless power play, as their PK was pretty effective. (It just wasn’t good enough to make up for a poor power play.)

Blackhawks goaltending was both a pleasant surprise and an indirect disappointment

Ever since the Blackhawks collapsed from contention, the modified strategy turned to “outscoring their problems.”

Failing on the power play was disappointing in that regard, and it also feels like it contributed to the Blackhawks squandering strong goaltending in 2019-20.

After his surprising free agent departure from the Islanders, Robin Lehner barely missed a beat for Chicago. He managed a .918 save percentage in 33 games before being shipped to the Golden Knights. Considering Chicago’s defense, a .918 mark with the Blackhawks is almost as impressive as his .930 in Barry Trotz’s nurturing defensive system.

Interestingly, Corey Crawford nearly matched Lehner.

Such strong play slipped under the radar, and it’s easy to understand why. Since Jan. 1, Crawford managed merely a 10-9-1 record in 20 games … while generating a fantastic .928 save percentage. Overall, Crawford sits at .917 for 2019-20, just a stride behind Lehner.

The Blackhawks receiving such strong goaltending from one of Lehner or Crawford wouldn’t have been surprising, but both? Yeah, that should count among the surprises for the Blackhawks. At the same time, failing to take advantage of that goaltending edge ranks among their biggest disappointments.

(Deciding to trade Robin Lehner opens up a whole other discussion.)

Kubalik among positive surprises, DeBrincat among disappointments for Blackhawks

Predictably enough, Kane (84 points) and Toews (60) topped Chicago’s scorers in 2019-20. I’m not sure even Dominik Kubalik expected to rank third for the Blackhawks, though.

With 30 goals and 46 points in 68 games, the 24-year-old made a stunning jump from the Swiss league. While Kubalik did not go undrafted, he only barely avoided such a fate .(Los Angeles chose Kubalik 191st overall in 2013.)

Yes, expect Kubalik to cool off next season. Puck luck certainly aided Kubalik on his way to 30 goals, as his shooting percentage was at 19.1.

All of those caveats aside, Kubalik managed strong production out of nowhere, especially considering limited ice time overall. (Kubalik averaged 14:22 per game, although Chicago wisely bumped his deployment up as 2019-20 progressed).

DeBrincat’s regression (45 points, fourth on team) ranks as one of the Blackhawks’ biggest disappointments, however. Blackhawks fans should still look at his extension as a likely bargain, but this was a tough year. At minimum, expect DeBrincat to enjoy more luck, as his shooting percentage was at a meager 8.7 this season.

MORE BLACKHAWKS:
2019-20 season summary

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’s top draft prospect staying patient amid uncertainty

2 Comments

Alexis Lafreniere could never have envisioned ending his prolific junior hockey career in such an anticlimactic setting.

There was no final buzzer, and the NHL’s projected top draft prospect was nowhere near an ice rink Wednesday. Lafreniere was instead sitting at home in suburban Montreal as he opened a conference call with reporters by thanking his Rimouski Oceanic teammates, coaches and fans for their support over the past three years.

Whatever chance of completing his Quebec Major Junior League season or competing in the playoffs for a shot at reaching the Memorial Cup tournament were wiped out this week following Canadian Junior Hockey’s decision to cancel play because of the coronavirus pandemic.

”For sure it was tough news for me and all the team,” the 18-year-old left-winger said.

”I think we had a great team this year and we believed that we could do something special for sure,” Lafreniere added. ”It’s a little bit sad. But we have to make sure that everyone is doing their best staying healthy.”

The uncertainty will continue over the coming months, with there being no clear indication of how the pandemic will affect the timing of the draft which the NHL announced was being postponed instead of happening in Montreal in late June.

That weekend was long expected to be Lafreniere’s coming-out party, given that he’s from Saint-Eustache, a half-hour drive from the site of the draft, the Canadiens’ Bell Centre.

With the NHL season postponed indefinitely, and the likelihood growing that play won’t resume until this summer, there’s a chance the draft will be conducted by phone without the usual spectacle of players taking the stage in front of a packed arena.

”For sure if the draft is online, it’s going to be different for us,” Lafreniere said. ”But we’re still going to enjoy our time and still be happy there.”

An Oceanic player, Sidney Crosby, was selected first by Pittsburgh in 205, the last time the draft wasn’t open to the public after the 2004-05 season was wiped out by the NHL lockout.

At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Lafreniere has consistently topped the NHL scouting bureau’s list of draft-eligible prospects.

When play ended, he was leading the QMJHL with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games. He was the league’s rookie of the year in 2017-18, when he scored 42 goals – the most by a rookie since Crosby scored 54 in 2003-04.

Overall, Lafreniere has 114 goals and 183 assists for 297 points in 173 games. In January, he captained Canada’s gold-medal-winning team and earned MVP honors at the world junior championships.

For now, his performance in the world tournament, where he had five goals and five assists despite missing two games with a knee injury, will stand as Lafreniere’s defining moment, and coming a year after Canada was eliminated in the quarterfinal round.

”Growing up you dream about it,” he said. ”To come back this year and to be able to win that, I think for sure it was a big moment for my career so far.”

Much like the NHL season, the pandemic has placed the draft process into limbo. It’s unclear when the annual draft lottery, usually scheduled in mid-April, will take place or whether changes will be made in determining the draft order.

In the past, the draft order among the 15 non-playoff teams was determined by lottery balls, with the team with the worst record receiving the best odds to win the top pick.

Though the season is incomplete, the Detroit Red Wings had already assured themselves of finishing 31st with a 17-49-5 record and 39 points, 23 behind Ottawa. Only six points separate Ottawa and Buffalo, which sits 25th.

Lafreniere welcomed the possibilities when asked specifically of playing in Detroit or Ottawa.

For now, he’s doing the best to stay in shape by working out at home.

If there’s one benefit from his season being canceled is the chance to spend more time with his family – something Lafreniere has not been able to do given his previously demanding hockey schedule.

”It’s easier for sure that I’m with them, and I’m home,” Lafreniere said. ”And I can stay here to wait until everything’s done.”