Lou Lamoriello

Pelech Olofsson injury
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Big injury losses: Sabres’ Olofsson, Islanders’ Pelech

The Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders began 2020 with some tough injuries. The Sabres expect Victor Olofsson to miss five-to-six weeks, while the Islanders lost Adam Pelech to a season-ending injury.

Let’s ponder these losses for each team, and the larger outlook for the Sabres and Isles.

Olofsson injury continues turbulent times for Sabres

Don’t blame Sabres fans if they feel like their heads are spinning right now.

Jack Eichel touched on what Olofsson’s absence might mean, as reported by The Athletic’s John Vogl:

Olofsson tops all NHL rookies in goals (16) and points (35), leading both categories by four. Olofsson’s Hockey Viz heat maps back up Eichel’s comments about the rookie’s all-around play:

The thinning of the Sabres isn’t ideal considering their competition.

The Bruins remain perched atop the Atlantic Division, while the Maple Leafs and Lightning look like they’re back to being scary opponents. The Panthers also have more standings points (47 to Buffalo’s 43) despite Florida playing two fewer games (40 versus the Sabres’ 42 games played). The Metro could produce four or even five playoff teams, so Buffalo faces a perilous path without Olofsson.

Islanders lose Pelech for regular season

The Athletic’s Arthur Staple reports that Pelech’s injury timeline is four months, opening up some possibility of a playoff return. The Islanders currently rank second in the Metro with 53 points, so Pelech’s recovery window could indeed become relevant.

The Islanders stumbled a bit to end 2019 (3-1-4 in their last eight). With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how they handle the loss of a workhorse who ranked second in both time on ice per game (21:08) and penalty kill reps (2:47 per game).

Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello said that “you don’t replace an Adam Pelech at the trade deadline,” according to Staple, so Barry Trotz faces a challenge in dealing with this loss. Pelech is the type of player Trotz adores, especially going by these quotes from Kris Knoblauch, Pelech’s former OHL coach.

“He’s very undervalued and underappreciated,” Knoblauch said back in October, via Staple (sub required). “We relied on him a ton — he was our power-play defenseman, our shutdown guy. There’s a lot of calm to his game now and there was back then, too.”

Can the Islanders continue to insulate their goalies without Pelech? We’ll find out. Either way, the Sabres and Islanders both received some rough injury news on Friday.

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.

Varlamov steady in Islanders’ bounce-back win

Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders
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After an 8-3 defeat against the Nashville Predators earlier this week, questions about the New York Islanders being an elite team in the Eastern Conference began to arise.

With a 3-2 shootout win on the road against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins, the Islanders answered the naysayers.

Semyon Varlamov made 27 saves and stopped two of three shooters in the shootout in his 12th win of the season. Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle both scored in the skills competition as the Islanders snapped a seven-game winless streak against the Bruins.

Varlamov showing his worth

The Russian netminder made his best save of the night late in the second period when he robbed Anders Bjork with his glove. Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy circled the net before sending a cross-ice pass to Bjork but Varlamov stretched out and snagged the puck to keep the game tied at the time.

When Lou Lamoriello signed Varlamov this summer to replace Robin Lehner, the move was far from universally praised. But the Islanders front office has proven their ability to identify talent in between the pipes.

If Varlamov continues to trend in the right direction, would Lamoriello consider moving Thomas Greiss at the trade deadline in order to collect a few additional assets? Goaltending has been a strength for the Islanders since Barry Trotz and his lieutenants have arrived, but is subtracting Greiss from the roster a smart gamble?

Pastrnak’s filthy move

When your team loses in a shootout, incredible dekes are often forgotten.

But, David Pastrnak‘s slick move in the second round is worth remembering. The NHL-leading goal scorer slid from his backhand to his forehand before Varlamov could even react.

The goal won’t count toward his total, and the Bruins will leave with only one point, but the shootout gave Pastrnak another forum to display his impressive skills, and the forward took full advantage.

Does Rask have a flaw in the shootout?

Both Eberle and Barzal converted their shootout attempts with wrist shots instead of attempting a deke.

Eberle skated in on the left side of the ice and fired a wrist shot past Tuukka Rask’s blocker, while Barzal flew down the middle of the ice before slowing and eventually wiring a wrist shot over the glove.

Do the Islanders know something about Rask that the NHL has not figured out?

It certainly could have been a coincidence, but will be interesting to see if other players opt for the same strategy against Rask in his next shootout appearance.

Islanders on Ho-Sang returning to organization: ‘It’s in his hands’

Joshua Ho-Sang AHL
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The New York Islanders confirmed what Joshua Ho-Sang announced via, um, Eminem: Ho-Sang is back with the organization.

Granted, a return to the Islanders isn’t guaranteed, if Ho-Sang manages it at all in 2019-20. Instead, Ho-Sang is reporting to the Islanders’ lowly AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Regardless, Ho-Sang announced his hockey return with style:

View this post on Instagram

Time to play hockey 🙊

A post shared by josh ho-sang (@66jhosang) on

 

Mutual benefits

While the Islanders boast a mighty 22-7-2 record, Bridgeport ranks as one of the worst teams in the AHL and its lowest-scoring squad.

This sets up a situation where all parties could gain if things go well, as The Athletic’s Arthur Staples explains (sub required). Bridgeport could use the scoring and the parent club might benefit from some injury insulation. Meanwhile, Ho-Sang must prove himself to revive his professional hockey career.

“It’s in his hands”

The Islanders make it sound like the world is Ho-Sang’s oyster, although some might read a bit of a … parental tone into GM Lou Lamoriello’s remarks.

“He just has to go there and do what he has to do as a player and conform to the environment and they’ll be no issues,” Lamoriello said Tuesday, via the team website.

“He was the last cut going down to the American league, so he did have a good training camp. Where he’s at right now physically and mentally, we’ll just have to wait and see. But from our end of it, he’ll have a clean slate. It’s in his hands.”

Barry Trotz implies that it might take some time before Ho-Sang changes minds.

“Right now, he’s got to get back and get back playing before he’s even an option for me,” Trotz said.

So, it’s good that the Islanders are saying the right things. Don’t blame Ho-Sang and others for remaining frustrated, though.

The case for Ho-Sang as an NHL player

Certainly, from here, it’s maddening to see the 23-year-old fail to make a full-time NHL impact.

Seemingly from the moment he was drafted 28th overall by the Islanders in 2014, Ho-Sang became a polarizing presence. While Ho-Sang made missteps along the way, particularly being late to training camp in 2015, he’s argued for his presence with blinding skill.

For quite some time, the answer seemed to be that maybe Ho-Sang should simply be playing for a different NHL team. Instead, the situation’s dragged on and on. Honestly, you could argue we’ve been waiting for some closure since Garth Snow was Islanders GM.

The rest of the NHL absorbs some of the blame, mind you. Ho-Sang passing through waivers right before the season began still leaves me scratching my head, honestly.

No, Ho-Sang isn’t perfect, but it’s hard to believe that he isn’t good enough to land a spot as one of 12 starting forwards on one of the NHL’s 31 teams.

Just about every objective sign, including this heat map from Hockey Viz, argues that Ho-Sang could benefit plenty of teams. Frankly, his defensive flaws might also be exaggerated:

Ho-Sang ultimately asked for a trade after barely failing to make the team out of training camp. The Islanders failed to “consummate” a trade, and Ho-Sang left the Islanders organization altogether since Oct. 1 … until now.

The Sound Tigers play their next game on Wednesday, but it’s unclear if Ho-Sang will be ready. Eventually, we’ll see if Ho-Sang runs with this opportunity, though — assuming the slate is truly clean.

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.

Would Ilya Kovalchuk make sense for Bruins, other NHL contenders?

Ilya Kovalchuk free agent
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It’s over. The Ilya Kovalchuk era has mercifully ended for the Los Angeles Kings, as Kovalchuk cleared waivers on Tuesday. The 36-year-old is now an unrestricted free agent.

So, would and should another NHL team see if they can make it work with Kovalchuk where the Kings failed? Let’s consider questions that are almost as tricky as Kovalchuk’s peak-era shot.

Kovalchuk unlikely to cost many bucks

Sports-Express’ Igor Eronko reports a few crucial points:

For the most part, then, a Kovalchuk signing would be low-risk. It sounds like he’d sign a cheap deal, and wouldn’t cost the team assets they’d lose in a trade. That said, there is some risk, as he’d stand as a 35+ contract.

Kovalchuk might be washed

The good news is that it sounds like Kovalchuk wouldn’t cost much. The bad news is that it might be a “get what you pay for” situation.

Consider this perspective from the Boston Sports Journal’s Conor Ryan, which is especially relevant since Eronko reports that the Boston Bruins are “interested” in Kovalchuk:

Kovalchuk doesn’t really shine by many metrics, including this middling heat map from Hockey Viz:

Kovalchuk left the NHL an elite player, but just about every sign points to him being “meh” at best since returning, with 43 points in 81 games as a member of the Kings.

A team signing Kovalchuk either needs to have low expectations (“Kovalchuk could at least be better than what we have now”) or a belief that they can get more out of the once-elite sniper.

Let’s quickly consider a few potential bidders of varying likelihood.

Boston Bruins

Again, Eronko reports that the Bruins are interested, while LeBrun noted (sub required) that the Bruins and San Jose Sharks were among the top bidders for Kovalchuk when he chose Los Angeles.

So, the Bruins have been eyeing Kovalchuk for a while. One could also argue that he’d be an upgrade over, say, Brett Ritchie on the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. On the other hand, Kovalchuk’s defensive lapses might not make him enough of a net positive for a Bruins team with high aspirations, and it would probably be tough for Kovalchuk to get much more than secondary power play opportunities considering Boston’s firepower.

New York Islanders

The Isles could use a little more “pop” in their offense, and Lou Lamoriello’s history with Kovalchuk is undeniable. One can only imagine the fury Kovalchuk would cause for Barry Trotz, though.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus needs to scratch and claw for everything post-Artemi Panarin. Maybe Kovalchuk could be a power play specialist for Columbus like Sam Gagner once was?

Of course, Kovalchuk might not exactly view the Blue Jackets as contenders, and John Tortorella … well, just picture Torts and Kovalchuk for a minute. Entertaining for everyone except the Blue Jackets, right?

Dallas Stars

Dallas is somewhere between the Blue Jackets and Islanders when it comes to being competitive despite meager scoring. It makes sense, then, that the Stars would face a similar Kovalchuk conundrum: they need offense, but would Kovalchuk take so much off the table defensively that he wouldn’t be worth a potential bump in skill?

Carolina Hurricanes

Adding some finish could be a big boost for Carolina, and there’s the Don Waddell Thrashers connection. LeBrun reports that the Hurricanes are still waiting on Justin Williams’ decision, however.

***

Signing Kovalchuk makes at least some sense to quite a few teams, including some who weren’t mentioned in this post. Even so, Kovalchuk also has plenty of flaws in his game, likely shrinking the list when you factor in teams that are more than merely curious.

Would Kovalchuk make your team better? That’s debatable, but it sure would be fun to see a great player author one more strong run. We’ll find out soon enough if someone decides to roll the dice.

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.

Islanders place Andrew Ladd on waivers

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(UPDATE: Ladd has cleared waivers and will report to AHL Bridgeport.)

New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello announced that the team put forward Andrew Ladd on waivers on Thursday, and from the sound of things, it’s unclear if we’ll see Ladd in the NHL again.

That said, Ladd’s $5.5 million AAV doesn’t expire until after 2022-23(!) so it’s possible that this saga may not be over.

For now, the Islanders are putting Ladd on waivers with the plan of assigning him to the AHL. Ladd had been on a conditioning stint while on LTIR as he tries to recover from a torn ACL suffered in March, and Lamoriello said that the Islanders hadn’t seen enough from that conditioning stint to have him resume playing. Setting such a standard would always make sense, really, but especially so with the Islanders humming along with an impressive 13-3-1 record so far in 2019-20.

Ladd’s longer-term future is fuzzy, and Lamoriello didn’t want to speculate about his chances (or lack thereof?) to play in the NHL again.

Newsday’s Andrew Gross clarifies that Ladd won’t need to be taken off LTIR to make this happen, which is relevant considering the whole $5.5M thing.

Ladd’s signing ranks as one of the many cursed 2016 free agent contracts, joined by Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo (the player he essentially replaced for the Islanders), David Backes, Loui Eriksson and more.

To be fair, Ladd had some utility if you looked beyond disappointing numbers for the money at times with the Islanders, but again, it’s hard to get too thrilled about such positives when the price tag was so steep. Still, he had some aptitude, particularly defensively, during his first two seasons for the Islanders, as illustrated by this Hockey Viz heat map:

Looking at Ladd’s contract structure at Cap Friendly, there’s the remote chance that the Islanders might be able to move that $5.5M cap hit (LTIR-bound or not) as the deal goes along. Ladd’s actual salary slips to $4M from 2020-21 through 2022-23, and it’s split up by a $3M signing bonus and $1M base salary each year. Maybe a team hoping to hit the cap floor might be willing to eat that cap hit to inflate their numbers for assets after the signing bonus is already paid, even if that would most realistically be able to happen heading into 2022-23? Perhaps the Islanders could bribe the Seattle expansion franchise to eat that deal, much like Vegas ended up doing with David Clarkson‘s contract?

Ultimately, those details are mostly the concerns of whoever is handling the Islanders’ cap situation in the future, and perhaps other teams hoping to squeeze every ounce of value out of an offseason.

Unfortunately, whether Ladd ever plays for the Islanders (or any other NHL team) again, it’s clear that the Islanders didn’t get much value from signing the former Winnipeg Jets captain.

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.