Ilya Kovalchuk

NHL players considering retirement Marleau Thornton
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Which NHL players might be considering retirement?

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When the coronavirus outbreak started to ratchet up in mid-March, hockey fans received at least one bit of soothing news. It turns out Joe Thornton doesn’t rank among the NHL players who might be considering retirement as the season hangs in the balance.

TSN/The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Thornton responded to a question about playing next season by texting back, “I have years to go!” If you’re like me, triumphant music might as well have been playing while you read that. (My choice: the “victory song” from Final Fantasy games.)

Check out LeBrun’s tweet. It’s been a while, so maybe you already saw it anyway, and could use a reason to smile?

Sweet, right?

A couple days later, The Athletic’s James Mirtle put together a thorough list of players who might have played in their final NHL games (sub required). I thought it might be useful to take a look at this group of aging veterans and wonder: should they have played their last NHL games? As we know, plenty of athletes don’t get to make the final call on retiring, instead being forced to fade from the glory because they couldn’t find any takers.

Forwards

Other aging forwards give Joe Thornton company when it comes to wanting to be back in 2020-21, and possibly beyond.

How many of them bring something to the table, though? Using Charting Hockey’s handy tableaus (which utilize Evolving Hockey’s data), here’s how some prominent aging forwards stack up in Goals Against Replacement:

NHL players considering retirement forwards GAR

 

Frankly, quite a few of these players should be of interest to someone, and I’d figure the biggest stumbling block might be fit. Would these players only suit up for a contender?

If there’s some flexibility, then many would make a lot of sense. There were some rumblings that the Sharks found a taker for Patrick Marleau because he’s still a pretty good skater, while a more plodding Joe Thornton made for a tougher fit. Similarly, some coaches will be more willing to overlook Ilya Kovalchuk’s defensive lapses than others. The Maple Leafs made an analytics-savvy move in adding Jason Spezza, and he remains an underrated option. Especially since he’s probably not going to break the bank. Justin Williams is likely poised to call his shot again, and justifiably so.

Someone like Mikko Koivu figures to be trickier. Koivu seemed to indicate that he wasn’t OK with being traded from the Wild, so if he remains Wild-or-nothing, that could get awkward.

The Stars made a reasonably low-risk gamble on Corey Perry, but that didn’t really seem to work out. Perry and (possibly AHL-bound) Justin Abdelkader might not have the choice.

Defensemen

Let’s apply the same Charting Hockey/Evolving Hockey GAR experiment to some defensemen who might be teetering:

NHL players considering retirement defensemen GAR

You can break down forwards into “surprisingly useful,” “some warts but probably worth a roster spot,” and then “broken down guys who’d live off of name recognition.”

An uncomfortable number of the defensemen above (Brent Seabrook, Roman Polak, Jonathan Ericsson, and Trevor Daley) could fall close to that broken down category. At least if you’re like me, and you hope Jay Bouwmeester bows out gracefully rather than risking his health after that scare.

Zdeno Chara stands tall as a “play as long as you want” option. Dan Hamhuis and Ron Hainsey mix the good with the bad, and could probably be decent options for coaches who simply demand veteran presences.

But the forward group is far richer, it seems.

Goalies

This post largely focuses on to-the-point analysis. Is this player good enough? Would they be willing to make some compromises to sign with a team?

But what about the human factor? This coronavirus pause is allowing players to spend more time with their families. For some, that might mean too much of a good thing/fodder for making a chicken coop. Yet, goalies like Ryan Miller might get another nudge out the door.

Back in June 2019, Ryan Miller explained why he came back to the Ducks. In doing so, Miller relayed this precious and heartbreaking detail about his then-4-year-old son Bodhi Miller pleading with him to retire.

“It’s not like he’s a little bit older and understands the full weight of his words,” Miller said to The Athletic’s Josh Cooper (sub required). “He was like, ‘If you aren’t doing that, you could be playing superheroes with me every single day.’”

(Personally, I wonder if Ryan Miller will eventually start playing “Nightcrawlers” with his son. It’s an imagination-based game, you see.)

Miller updated to Mirtle around March 19 that it’s “too soon — can’t even process what’s happening.”

Veteran goalies present their own brand of tough calls. How many of these goalies would be willing to play as backups, or as the “1B” in platoons.

  • Miller adjusted to life as such, but could Henrik Lundqvist accept a lesser role with a different team if the Rangers buy him out?
  • Craig Anderson suffered through multiple rough seasons after once developing a strange knack for rotating elite and “eh” seasons.
  • Jimmy Howard is no spring chicken at 36. After a sneaky-strong 2018-19 season, his play dropped significantly. He’d likely need to take significant role and pay decreases to stay in the NHL.
  • Mike Smith warrants consideration, too. He’s struggled for two seasons now, and is 38.

Closing thoughts on NHL players considering retirement

While family time might nudge some toward retirement, added rest — particularly if play doesn’t resume this season and playoffs – could also revitalize certain veterans.

Overall, it’s a lot to think about regarding NHL players who might be considering retirement. Which players should lean toward hanging their skates up, and who should NHL teams convince to stick around? This list isn’t comprehensive, so bring up names of your own.

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.

Kovalchuk finds home with Capitals after whirlwind journey

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Ilya Kovalchuk and Brenden Dillon broke bread in a Northern Virginia restaurant, leaving their temporary home away from home hotel and swapping stories.

The Washington Capitals’ two newcomers bonded over their shared experience of playing in the NHL and adjusting to a new life. That’s just about where the similarities end because Kovalchuk’s journey has taken him to the ends of the earth and back.

Kovalchuk’s trade to the Capitals marked another twist in a career ranging from national hero to aging reclamation project. A gold medal winner and Olympic MVP in 2018, the once-feared Russian sniper was a disappointment in Los Angeles, a revelation in Montreal and is now just one of the guys with the Capitals in his pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

”It’s no more trade deadlines,” the 36-year-old winger said with a wry smile. ”It’s always new. You come, you meet the new people. For me it was easier because I knew the coach, I knew a lot of guys on the team. But still to learn the system and get used to the way the guys play and all the routine, it’s a lot. But it’s OK. I love it.”

Kovalchuk is loving the sport again on a team with good friend Alex Ovechkin and their fellow countrymen, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov. He also knows coach Todd Reirden because the two played together with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2001-02 and became fast friends.

A homesick Kovalchuk left the NHL in 2013 and played five seasons back home in the Kontinental Hockey League. Once he decided to return, the road back wasn’t smooth.

Kovalchuk didn’t play up to the expectations of an $18.75 million, three-year contract signed with L.A in the summer of 2018; he put up just 43 points in 81 games while struggling under two coaches. He agreed to mutually terminate his contract in December after it was clear the fit with the Kings wasn’t a good one.

”It just didn’t work,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said. ”You’ve got to be able to cut a tie and move on.”

Kovalchuk signed with the Canadiens for a pro-rated league minimum $700,000 salary and thrived. He saw more ice time, scored three game-winning goals and recouped his reputation in NHL circles.

Montreal coach Claude Julien called Kovalchuk ”the ultimate pro” and ”an easy guy to like.” A pre-trade deadline game at Washington gave Capitals brass a chance to see what Kovalchuk could do and ponder what he might bring to a title contender.

It was clear this wasn’t the same Kovalchuk who languished in a limited role in L.A.

”To completely turn it around the way he did, to be as productive and to have as much impact as he had on the Montreal team both on and off the ice, their manager (Marc) Bergevin, he couldn’t say enough good things about the character of the guy and the way he handled himself,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. ”So many good things have been said about him on and off the ice in Montreal that we basically thought it was a no-brainer to add him.”

Kovalchuk also had to make a decision. Montreal had deals worked out to trade him to Boston or Washington, and he chose the Capitals over the NHL-leading Bruins.

Kovalchuk said he liked the way the Capitals played. It also didn’t hurt that he’d be the team’s fifth Russian player and has talked with Ovechkin about being teammates from the time they were teenagers.

”You never know what’s gonna happen, but yeah sometime in the summer (we said) it would be nice like if you’re gonna be one day on Washington Capitals team,” said Ovechkin, who MacLellan consulted before trading a third-round pick for Kovalchuk. ”I said: ‘Yeah, let’s do it. If we can take him, why not?”’

Reirden, who learned all his Russian from Kovalchuk (and helped teach his friend English), has already experimented with a line of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Kovalchuk at times, and the trio combined to produce a goal in a win at Minnesota.

What better way to make Kovalchuk comfortable?

”He may be old for hockey player, but inside it doesn’t seem like he’s much older than us,” said Kuznetsov, who is nine years younger than Kovalchuk. ”We feel like we’re same age and that’s always easy to find a way and it’s always translate on the ice. If you can find out how to communicate with a guy off the ice, then it will be much easier on the ice.”

Kovalchuk is trying to blend in and stay out of the way. He has connected with Dillon in large part because his Russian friends already have established lives in the D.C. area. Kovalchuk doesn’t want to interfere with that and is biding time until his family, still living in California, visits over spring break.

Playing mostly on the third line with Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller, Kovalchuk is making a bigger impact that he perhaps realizes.The Caps’ 23-year-old rookie goaltender, Samsonov, needs to only observe Kovalchuk to learn more about how he conducts himself.

”It’s important for me because I see how he get practice or warmup, how he’s ready in the game,” Samsonov said. ”He’s very good for our team.”

Only 22 active players have played more regular-season games than Kovalchuk without winning the Cup, and that’s a hunger Reirden sees in his former teammate. That experience is something Capitals players remember before winning it all two years ago.

”He’s experienced, so it make us better, make us deeper and stronger,” Orlov said. ”It’s only gonna help us.”

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Fiala, Danault among this week’s top adds

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Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Kevin Fiala, Wild – LW/RW: Fiala had nine goals and 28 points in his first 46 contests, which was pretty impressive given that he was averaging just 14:33 minutes per game. His role has increased lately though with him averaging 17:09 minutes over his last 13 games. He’s excelled during that span with 10 goals and 19 points. I don’t expect him to maintain that above point-per-game pace, but there’s still a great chance of him finishing the campaign on a high note.

Duncan Keith, Blackhawks – D: Keith isn’t the offensive force he once was. In fact, this is on track to be one of the worst seasons of his career in terms of points-per-game. To be fair, part of the reason that’s the case is because he’s set the bar so high throughout his career that his current two goals and 22 points in 56 contests pales in comparison. Those aren’t standout numbers for a defenseman in most fantasy leagues, but it’s still noteworthy contributions. The main reason why he’s being highlighted here though is because of how hot he’s been lately. With a goal and seven points in his last six contests, this would be the time to take a chance on him.

Kailer Yamamoto, Oilers – RW: When it was announced on Feb. 25th that Yamamoto sustained an ankle injury, he was listed as week-to-week. A fair number of fantasy owners likely dropped him when the extent of his injury was revealed, but in the end it looks like he’ll miss significantly less time than anticipated. In fact, he might even make his return tonight. If he’s healthy then he’s a great addition to any team. He has nine goals and 21 points in 21 games.

Jordan Eberle, Islanders – RW: Eberle had a petty mediocre start to the campaign, scoring three goals and 17 points in 31 contests. He found his rhythm though and hasn’t looked back. Over his last 23 games, he’s scored 12 goals and 20 points. He’s had a couple small rough patches, but on the whole, he’s been an excellent contributor for nearly two months now. He’s a solid pickup for the rest of the season.

Dominik Kubalik, Blackhawks – LW/RW: Kubalik had an incredible run of 13 goals and 19 points in 15 contests from Dec. 19-Jan. 19. He slowed down after that with just a goal over his next seven contests, but he’s bounced back in a big way with seven goals and 11 points in his last eight games. At this point, he’s got 29 goals and 44 points in 63 games, which makes him by far the league leader in goals among rookies.

Mikael Backlund, Flames – C/RW: Backlund has been one of the leagues’ top players recently, scoring nine goals and 19 points in his last 13 games. He’s been a reliable secondary scorer for years, surpassing the 40-point milestone for five consecutive seasons, including this one. That’s not good enough to hold onto him at all times, but when he’s this hot, there’s potential upside if you roll the dice on him.

Nikita Gusev, Devils – LW/RW: Gusev’s first campaign in the NHL has been something of a mixed bag, but it’s been more positive than negative, with him scoring 12 goals and 42 points in 62 games. That’s still not quite good enough to hold onto him at all times in standard leagues, but there have been various points in the season where he would have been worth owning. Right now, for example, he’s doing rather well with two goals and nine points in his last six games.

Phillip Danault, Canadiens – C: Danault endured a prolonged rough patch from Dec. 29-Feb. 18 where he scored just two goals and 10 points in the span of 24 contests, but he finally seems to have thawed. He’s on a three-game point streak, scoring a goal and four points in his last three contests. He had a great first half of the season with 10 goals and 30 points in 38 games and now that his cold stretch is behind him, he could have a strong finish to the campaign as well.

Chris Tierney, Senators – C: The Senators were heavy sellers on the trade market and Tierney is among those who got a bigger role as a result. He went from averaging 16:54 minutes through 62 games to 20:36 minutes in his last four contests. He’s registered five assists over that recent four-game span and if the Senators keep leaning on him that heavily then he should be solid for what’s left of the season.

Alex Stalock, Wild – G: This has been a pretty rough season for Devan Dubnyk, who has a 11-15-2 record, 3.34 GAA, and .892 save percentage in 29 contests. It seems the result of that is that Stalock en route to finish the campaign as the de facto starter. Stalock got his fourth straight start on Sunday and while his latest effort wasn’t great, he’s still been the Wild’s better option this season with a 18-10-4 record, 2.64 GAA, and .909 save percentage in 35 games. If you’re hurting for starts, Stalock might your best bet among the likely free agents.

Players You May Want To Drop

Steven Stamkos, Lightning – C/LW/RW: Stamkos is still owned in 83% of Yahoo leagues and unfortunately he shouldn’t be occupied in any single season leagues at this point. He’s expected to miss the next six-to-eight weeks due to a core muscle injury, which basically means he won’t be back before the end of the regular season. In fact, he might end up missing the first round as well, which dampens his value in playoff leagues as well. If you’re in a keeper league though, Stamkos should bounce right back in 2020-21, so he’s an easy one to keep.

Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers – G: Lundqvist is owned in 45% of leagues, which is surprisingly high under the circumstances. Although he will always be a big part of the Rangers history, the team seems to have largely moved on from him. He went nearly a month between starts before he finally got the nod on Sunday. He didn’t do anything to force the Rangers to play him more either, stopping just 21 of 26 shots in a 5-3 loss to the Flyers. It wouldn’t be shocking if he only had just one more start with the Rangers this season and then was bought out or otherwise moved over the summer.

Evgenii Dadonov, Panthers – LW/RW: Dadonov is owned in 73% of Yahoo leagues, but there are probably a fair number of them where there’s better options out there. He has 25 goals and 46 points in 66 contests this season, which isn’t bad, but he hasn’t done much lately. He has just two goals and five points in his last 15 contests.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Capitals – LW/RW: Those who were hoping that Kovalchuk would be sparked by the trade to the Capitals have been left largely disappointed. He has just an assist in his first three games with Washington, which isn’t terribly surprising given that he’s averaged 15:14 minutes over that span. He has been a streaky player since coming back from the KHL and with his more limited role with Washington, he’s not worth owning in most leagues.

Nick Suzuki, Canadiens – C/RW: Suzuki had a fantastic run from Jan. 27-Feb. 18, scoring four goals and 13 points in 12 contests. Since then though, he’s gone five straight games without a point. He’s having a solid season, but isn’t quite good enough to hold onto in standard leagues at all times, so for most owners it makes sense to drop him now that he’s cooled off.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

The Buzzer: Werenski, Gaudreau, and Ovechkin all shine in big wins

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Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He recorded his league-leading 12th multi-goal game of the season in the Capitals’ 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild, scoring two goals from his signature spot on the ice. He is now at 45 goals for the season and is just two back of Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the league lead. You can read more about Ovechkin’s big game and the Capitals’ big win right here.

2. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames. Gaudreau found out on Saturday that his grandfather passed away before their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He came back on Sunday with a huge performance for one of his biggest supporters. Gaudreau was dominant for the Flames in a 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers, scoring a goal, recording an assist, and even drawing a penalty shot in the first period. After a slow start to the season offensively Gaudreau’s production has really started to pick up in recent weeks, averaging a point per game (25 points in 25 games) since the start of January.

3. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. Werenski was a beast for the Blue Jackets in their come-from-behind win against the Vancouver Canucks, playing 25 minutes, scoring the game-tying goal (his 20th of the season) in the third period, picking up an assist, and finishing the night as a plus-two. The Blue Jackets desperately needed this win and it is not a stretch to call it a potential season saver. With Seth Jones sidelined due to injury a lot of the Blue Jackets’ workload on defense is going to fall on Werenski, and he has been brilliant this season. You can read more about their big win on Sunday night here.

More Standout Performances From Sunday

  • Cory Schneider recorded his first shutout in more than a year for the New Jersey Devils in a 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Anze Kopitar scored two goals and Cal Petersen was a wall for the Los Angeles Kings by stopping 42 out of 43 shots to help them put a stop to the Vegas Golden Knights’ winning streak. Read more about the Kings’ win here.

Highlights of the Night

Trevor Lewis helped the Kings pull the upset over the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday night with this beautiful spin-o-rama goal to beat Marc-Andre Fleury.

Derek Grant had a huge game for the Philadelphia Flyers with an assist on Michael Raffl‘s shorthanded goal, and this beautiful goal for himself. Read more about the Flyers’ big win here.

Ovechkin’s second goal of the night came on this beautiful passing play between him, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Blooper of the Night

Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson absolutely levels Devils forward Kevin Rooney behind the net and earns himself a two-minute minor for interference.

Factoids

  • Werenski is the first Blue Jackets defensemen to ever score 20 goals in a single season. [NHL PR]
  • Artemi Panarin extended his point streak for the New York Rangers. [NHL PR]
  • Ovechkin now has 144 multi-goal games in his career, putting him into fifth place in NHL history. [NHL PR]

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, New York Rangers 2
Calgary Flames 3, Florida Panthers 0
New Jersey Devils 3, Anaheim Ducks 0
Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Vancouver Canucks 3
Washington Capitals 4, Minnesota Wild 3
Los Angeles Kings 4, Vegas Golden Knights 1

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.

Capitals hold on for win, put an end to Wild’s winning streak

Thanks to another two-goal effort from Alex Ovechkin the Washington Capitals were able to gain some extra breathing room in the Metropolitan Division race on Sunday night with a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Washington’s win also puts an end to the Wild’s three-game winning streak as they attempted to climb back into a playoff spot in the Western Conference Wild Card race.

Tom Wilson scored the game-winning goal for the Capitals early in the third period, while Braden Holtby stopped 37 out of 40 shots.

A few things that stood out from this one.

It was oddly physical and intense

For two teams that only play twice per season and had yet to play this season there was a lot of anger in this game. Maybe it’s just the time of year as the playoff races heat up, but this game had a ton of chippy play that reached its boiling point with this first period fight between Brenden Dillon and Ryan Hartman.

Ovechkin gains ground in goal scoring race.

With two goals on Sunday Ovechkin hit the 45-goal mark for the season and pulled himself to within two goals of Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak for the league lead.

He opened the scoring for the Capitals with a power play goal to tie the game at one early in the first period, and then added another goal just three minutes later to extend the Capitals’ lead to 3-1. That goal came right after Richard Panik had scored to give the Capitals the lead.

It is already his 12th multi-goal game of the season, the most in the NHL. Auston Matthews (10) is the only other player in the NHL to have at least 10 such games this season.

We saw the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Kovalchuk line

The Russian line ended up playing around four minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together and ended up scoring one of the Capitals’ goals when Kovalchuk and Ovechkin teamed up for an NHL goal for the first time in their careers.

It was Ovechkin’s second goal of the game.

Kevin Fiala stayed hot for the Wild

The one bright spot for the Wild on Sunday was the continued great play of forward Kevin Fiala.

He scored his 20th goal of the season and added an assist in the win to give him his fourth consecutive multi-point game.

Acquired at the trade deadline a year ago for Mikael Granlund, Fiala is putting together a career year for the Wild and has been especially hot since the start of February.

The Wild had a chance to move into a playoff spot with a win. They remain one point back of a Wild Card spot.

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.