Josh Bailey

Early returns: NHL players on getting back in small groups during Phase 2

As of Tuesday, we’re two days into Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan. To put things mildly, not every NHL team has approached Phase 2 in the same way. Considering the protocols for opening things up, plenty haven’t gotten the puck rolling just yet.

This post aims to round up some of the perspectives from players who have gotten the chance to get back a bit, though. Please note that this isn’t a comprehensive list of every team back in action for Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan.

Matt Benning on the Oilers skating

One curious question is: how long does it take to shake off the rust. Considering that the NHL is still trying to hash out details for training camps (aka Phase 3), the answer appears subjective.

“If I’m off the ice for two days, it feels like I’ve never skated in my life before, so three months was a little bit nerve-wracking …” Oilers defenseman Matt Benning said.

Benning noted that it takes different players different amounts of time to get used to edgework and other skating factors. But it sounds like Benning specifically sits in the “more the merrier” camp. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

If you need a moment of zen, enjoy this footage of the Oilers beginning Phase 2:

*refreshed Ahhhhh*

Tavares doing Tavares things early in NHL Phase 2

Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares is known for being something of a thinking man’s hockey star. Sometimes that drive can manifest itself in ways that are … honestly, kind of nerdy.

Tavares told reporters including TSN’s Karen Shilton that he quickly decided to start taping his sticks at home to get the most out of his time.

“There’s a pretty big-time crunch on being in the arena; you only have about 45 minutes to an hour to complete your workout and you’ve got about 40 minutes on the ice,” Tavares said. “The windows are fairly small, but the actual work we’re able to get in is going to go a long way in helping us prepare and get ready. The intensity is there.”

Shilton notes that Tavares is skating in a group with Jack Campbell, Cody Ceci, Mitch Marner, Ilya Mikheyev, and Jake Muzzin.

Josh Bailey among Islanders getting back to skating at facility

Bailey joined Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, and Thomas Greiss for small-group workouts. Bailey admitted feeling some rust, and that there’s no substitute for skating.

There’s also no substitute for family. Bailey acknowledged that the “hub city” system will take some getting used to. At least he’d have his Islanders teammates, though.

“It’ll definitely be different,” Bailey said, via Cory Wright of the Islanders’ website. “No matter how it all comes together, when, how, if, whatever the case may be. It won’t be what we are accustomed to. But when you’re with the team it kind of gives you that feeling of normalcy.”

Plenty still needs to be settled before NHL goes from Phase 2 to Phase 3

Overall, the Phase 2 return to ice seems more like a trickle than a stampede.

For every instance such as Marc-Andre Fleury getting geared up with the Golden Knights, there are players who want to avoid taking risks, or teams facing restrictions.

In some cases, players are able to skate on their own. During an appearance on “Lunch Talk Live,” Blake Wheeler explained that he’s been able to get some reps in with Adam Oates in the Boca Raton area in Florida.

MORE NHL RETURN TO PLAY:

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.

What is the Islanders’ long-term outlook?

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 New York Islanders.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Islanders will need to lock up a couple of critical restricted free agents this upcoming offseason but have a lot of components signed to long-term extensions.

The acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the NHL Trade Deadline solidified their depth down the middle for years to come. Mathew Barzal has the potential to blossom into an elite centerman while Brock Nelson and Pageau can flip flop between the second and third line. Heart and soul player Casey Cizikas will continue to anchor the fourth line.

New York also has several of its top-nine wingers in place, including Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle and captain Anders Lee.

The newest addition to the core will be goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who is expected to come to the NHL at the start of next season. The Islanders drafted Sorokin in the third round of the 2014 draft and the Russian netminder has spent the past six seasons in the KHL. He has long been considered one of the best goalies not playing in the NHL. Throughout his career with CSKA, he never finished with a save percentage below .929 and is expected to produce at a similar level in North America.

Islanders goalie coach Mitch Korn has helped develop some of the League’s best goaltenders and Sorokin could be next in line.

Long-Term Needs

While the Islanders have a lot of their core signed to long-term contracts, the organization still needs a high-scoring winger to manufacture offense.

The Carolina Hurricanes swept the Islanders in a second-round series during last year’s postseason as they won four straight and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. New York only managed to score five goals in those four games and were unable to solve its offensive deficiencies.

The Islanders play a fundamentally sound defensive system but need someone who can create offense on their own to change the momentum within a game. Barzal has a chance to be that type of game-breaker in today’s NHL but you need more than one player with that skillset.

In addition to their lack of offensive punch, the Islanders lost their defensive structure when Adam Pelech was lost for the season in early January. General manager Lou Lamoriello thought he solved the problem with the addition of Andy Greene from the New Jersey Devils but the Islanders went 2-5-4 in the 11 games he played and finished in a seven-game skid.

Coach Barry Trotz and his staff need to examine why the absence of one player impacted their system as much as it did.

Long-Term Strengths

The impact a coach has on any given team has long been disputed, but the effect Trotz has had on the Islanders is undeniable.

Ever since Trotz inked a five-year contract with the orange and blue, he brought a credibility to the team on the ice. The Islanders became one of the most defensively sound teams in the league and instantly became a playoff contender. With Trotz behind the bench, the Islanders will reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a consistent basis.

Besides strong leadership behind the bench, the Islanders have developed a strong culture inside the locker room. Players play for one another and there is a system of accountability that was lacking before Trotz arrived.

Overall, the Islanders should be in the playoff discussion for years to come with a disciplined structure, strong goaltending and a true difference-maker behind the bench. However, in order to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and not just a team that qualifies for the postseason consistently, they need to add a dynamic forward.

MORE ON THE ISLANDERS:


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.

Lamoriello says Islanders would match Barzal offer sheet

Lamoriello Islanders would match Mathew Barzal offer sheet
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If an opportunistic NHL team sends Mathew Barzal an offer sheet, Lou Lamoriello claims that the Islanders would match it.

Lamoriello briefly but authoritatively stated as much in an … often brief and authoritative Q&A with fans on the Islanders website. Here’s his exact answer:

It is our intention to not allow it to get to that point, but should that happen, the answer is yes.

Lamoriello also mentioned that:

  • The Islanders expect intriguing goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin to play in North America next season, and specifically with the Islanders.
  • The team believes Johnny Boychuk and Casey Cizikas would be ready if play resumes.
  • Meanwhile, Lamoriello said Adam Pelech is expected to be ready by (2020-21) training camp.

But, yeah, that Barzal bit is the most interesting. Let’s ruminate on the situation for a moment.

A Barzal bidder could be a threat if Islanders, others face cap crunches

As of this writing, Cap Friendly estimates the Islanders’ would-be cap space for 2020-21 at about $12.62 million. Of course, that estimate would be based on an $81.5M ceiling. Usually, we assume there will be at least a modest increase, and the league pointed to that happening … until the coronavirus pandemic put the season on “pause.”

Now that the league is on pause, there are all sorts of questions. While the biggest ones are about whether the league could hand out the Stanley Cup (and how), financial worries also linger. It sure sounds like it will be difficult to even maintain an $81.5M cap, let alone raise it.

It’s tough to picture a team being cutthroat during such a time, especially in an NHL where credible offer sheets are about as rare as Lamoriello approving of a high jersey number and mustache combination.

But things can change quickly, and if life and sports go back to something approaching normalcy, one could imagine a perfect opportunity for someone to try to poach Barzal with an offer sheet. Generally speaking, such offer sheets are often designed to hurt the team to match thanks to certain structural quirks. (The Flyers front-loaded their offer to try to get Shea Weber, for instance.)

A Barzal offer sheet could hurt maneuverability even if Islanders match

For better or worse, the Islanders have handed out a lot of term to forwards lately.

Anders Lee (29, $7M cap hit through 2025-26), Brock Nelson (28, $6M, 2024-25), Jordan Eberle (29, $5.5M, 2023-24) and Josh Bailey (30, $5M, 2023-24) already represented a pretty substantial group with its fair share of risks. Then Lamoriello added Jean-Gabriel Pageau (27, extended at $5M AAV through 2025-26) to the mix.

The Islanders would do what they need to do to retain Barzal, as Lamoriello said. Even so, a strategic offer sheet could create an especially tight fit.

Such thoughts make you wonder if the Islanders might want to get something done ASAP with Barzal, but back in January, he indicated talks will wait.

“We want to make the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs, take a run at the Stanley Cup, and after that we’ll figure [the contract] out,” Barzal said during All-Star weekend, via NHL.com.

A few weeks ago, Elliotte Friedman surmised that an offer sheet could indeed come for Barzal, and it’s easy to see why.

Barzal is vital to Islanders, compares well to Marner

If you’re a team in need of an impact player, wouldn’t Barzal be worth at least as much as Mitch Marner‘s $10.893M AAV, if not more? After all, Barzal brings all of that speed and production at center.

Compare Barzal and Marner based on multiple season RAPM charts at Evolving Hockey, for example:

With 60 points in 68 games, Barzal leads all Islanders scorers, which puts him on track to top team point production for three straight seasons. While he hasn’t matched that explosive rookie year of 85 points in 2017-18, Barzal’s been able to avoid Barry Trotz’s doghouse.

His value to the Islanders is abundantly clear, and won’t be lost on potential suitors. It would be surprising if anyone snatched Barzal away, but that offer sheet threat could really drive up the price for the Islanders.

Perhaps a team might snare a player away who’s a few rungs lower down the ladder with an offer sheet considering the economic turbulence, though?

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.

The Buzzer: Kucherov carries Lightning; Hart makes victorious return

Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning
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Three Stars

1) Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov scored twice including the overtime winner in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Russian winger has collected 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) during an 11-game point streak as the Lightning have climbed up the standings. The Bolts also extended their point streak to nine games (8-0-1) and moved to within three points of the Boston Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. Captain Steven Stamkos did not play due to a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day.

2) Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders

The focus was on Alex Ovechkin’s chase for 700 goals but Beauvillier and the Islanders quickly stole the spotlight with two early goals in a 5-3 victory against the Capitals. The 22-year-old forward set a new career high with his six-game point streak. No. 18 scored the opening goal after a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing sequence 3:30 into the game. He added his second less than three minutes later when he gathered a rebound during a scramble in front of Ilya Samsonov. His linemates Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had three assists in the victory.

3) Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

After a nine-game absence due to a strained abdominal muscle, Hart returned with 30 saves in the Flyers’ 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers at Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia improved to 7-2-1 over its last eight games and passed the Carolina Hurricanes for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Hart and the Flyers have been dreadful away from home this season and will need to improve in a hurry if they expect to keep up in the Eastern Conference Playoff race.

[RELATED: Ovechkin’s chase for 700 continues on NBCSN | Pens acquire Zucker]

Highlights of the Night

You have to see it to believe what Matthew Tkachuk pulled off in the third period against the San Jose Sharks.

Nelson left a perfect drop pass for Bailey before he slid the puck over to Beauvillier who completed the brilliant sequence to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead early in the first period.

Brayden Point stole the puck from Zach Werenski preceding a marvelous string of passes that allowed Kucherov to slam home the overtime winner.

Ivan Provorov could not have fired the puck into a better spot for his 10th goal of the season.

There are times when all you have to do is put your stick on the puck, but in this situation Milan Lucic wisely redirected a pass to the top portion of the net to give the Flames an early one-goal lead.

Stats of the Night

Scores

New York Islanders 5, Washington Capitals 3

Arizona Coyotes 3, Montreal Canadiens 2

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Florida Panthers 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Columbus Blue Jackets 1 (OT)

Vancouver Canucks 6, Nashville Predators 2

Calgary Flames 6, San Jose Sharks 2

Ovechkin’s quest for 700:


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.

The Buzzer: Vatrano helps Panthers win sixth in a row; Dodgeball ‘Storm Surge’

Vatrano hat trick Panthers six in a row Buzzer
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Three Stars

 1. Frank Vatrano, Florida Panthers

The Lightning understandably drew a ton of attention for their rise up the rankings. Should we give their in-state neighbors some love, too? Consider the Panthers’ winning run, which cued up nicely with Joel Quenneville’s return to Chicago:

  • The Panthers keep overcoming mostly hit-or-miss (and sometimes hit by injuries) goaltending by scoring, a lot. Tuesday’s 4-3 win against the Blackhawks marks Florida’s sixth win in a row. They’ve scored at least four goals in every game during that streak.
  • The Panthers’ strong play extends beyond this streak. Florida carried a strong 13-4-0 run in its last 17 games.
  • They closed off a three-game road trip, all with wins. They return with another three-game road trip (so technically, it’s six in a row on the road). If they stand strong after this stretch, it would be quite a testament to what Coach Q & Co. are building.

Vatrano caught fire during this six-game winning streak. Tuesday represents the peak of that run, as the winger generated his second NHL hat trick. Vatrano also extended his point streak to five games (five goals, four assists for nine points).

He showed flashes of brilliance in Boston, and has largely converted that into a solid niche with Florida. Vatrano quietly scored 24 goals and 39 points last season. Tuesday’s outburst places Vatrano at 14 goals and 27 points for 2019-20.

Florida needed all three of Vatrano’s goals, as his third ended up being the game-winner. The Panthers were up as much as 3-0 and 4-1, so Chicago fought back, but not enough.

Count Mike Hoffman as one of the other Panthers who are scoring up a storm.

2. Josh Bailey/Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

The Rangers generated a massive 42-18 shots on goal advantage on Tuesday, but the Islanders held on for a 4-2 win. Getting outchanced like that remains a cause for concern, but Griess bailed the Isles out with 40 saves.

(Quick thought: is it possible Barry Trotz needs to loosen up when the Islanders hold leads? They lost after coughing up a big one against Washington, and almost invited the Rangers to creep back in on Tuesday.)

Bailey generated three points (1G, 2A), so maybe you’d call him the bigger star over Greiss?

3. Teuvo Teravainen, Carolina Hurricanes

Justin WIlliams continues to make an early impact for Carolina. After producing the shootout-deciding goal in his return, Williams fired in two goals on Tuesday. Not bad, considering his modest 11:45 time on ice.

Teravainen gets the overall edge, though. Like Bailey, Teravainen scored a goal and two assists for three points. The shifty Finn is backing up last season’s almost point-per-game play (76 points in 82 GP), with similar results (48 points in 50 GP).

Andrei Svechnikov demands a mention of his own. The splendid sophomore collected two assists, placing Svechnikov close behind Teravainen with 45 points in 50 GP.

Kreider replaces Panarin at All-Star Game

The Rangers played without Artemi Panarin thanks to an injury. It appears that they’ll have a different All-Star Game representative, as Chris Kreider will replace him.

Another fun Storm Surge

If you can block a shot, you can dodge a ball?

Feisty Scheifele

The Jets are struggling, and thus Mark Scheifele is taking no guff.

Factoids

Scores

BOS 3 – VGK 2
NYI 4 – NYR 2
CAR 4 – WPG 1
PHI 3 – PIT 0
FLA 4 – CHI 3

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.