Connor McDavid would prefer if the NHL played out the rest of the 2019-20 schedule once the coronavirus pandemic has passed and the league resumes play. Going straight into the playoffs after all this time off? Not ideal, the Oilers captain said on a Friday video conference with reporters.
“I think [the standings] look pretty good right now,” said McDavid of his second-place Oilers. “But you want a fair season. And a fair season is a full season. If we can do that, then that’s what we’d obviously prefer. I don’t think we can just step into playoffs, Game 1, Calgary comes to Edmonton, and guys are just running around killing each other and haven’t played a game in two months. It’ll end up the [AHL] Stockton Heat versus the Bakersfield Condors if that’s the case. We want to keep guys healthy and we want to make sure everyone’s up and ready to play some playoff hockey.”
Flames captain Mark Giordano would also prefer to see a full 82-game schedule played out, but a prolonged pause and an emphasis on not affecting the 2020-21 season would be a factor.
“I’ve thought a lot about this,” said Giordano, whose Flames are in third place in the Pacific Division, four points behind the Oilers. “In a perfect world, you want to play a full regular season and whoever gets in, gets in. But I don’t think realistically we’re going to have that time.”
The Flames and Oilers have a bit of a cushion in their divisional playoff race, but what about a team like the Coyotes, who are four points out a wild card spot and five points behind Calgary in the division?
“I think it’s only fair to start where we left off here,” said Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. “It would be good for the playoffs too, to get those games going again and get into a playoff spot and be ready for a really good playoffs. I think that would benefit all of us.”
One playoff format idea that’s been floated is using points percentage and including a few more than the usual 16 teams. Giordano isn’t a fan of the points percentage idea, but is keen on 12 teams in each conference making the postseason with Round 1 byes for top teams.
One thing Giordano and his fellow Pacific Division captains agreed on was that should a 2020 postseason be played, the time off would ensure a quality tournament.
“If we can ever get back to playing, it’s going to be one of the best playoffs ever,” said Giordano. “You’re going to be playing the best version of every team.”
If the NHL season is canceled, what’s something you’ll be disappointed not to be able to see?
SEAN: Missing out on Alex Ovechkin hitting 50 goals for the ninth time in his career and maybe adding a ninth Richard Trophy would be a bummer. Only two players in NHL history have scored 50 nine times — Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy — and for Ovi to hit that during a season where he reached 700 goals would have been a nice cherry on top.
Ovechkin would also be missing 13 games in his pursuit of Gretzky’s goals record of 894. He sits at 706 as we wait, only 188 goals away from The Great One.
JAMES: I’m assuming that “seeing the 2020 Stanley Cup awarded” would be a catch-all cheat answer. After all, that would cover things like “Will the Lightning avenge their first-round sweep?” and so on.
So, assuming that’s too wide a net to throw, I’ll toss my hat in the “Who wins the Maurice Richard Trophy?” ring. The season halted with David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin tied for first at 48, while Auston Matthews sat at 47. Leon Draisaitl was really gathering steam (43) while Mika Zibanejad somehow scored 41 goals in just 57 games.
It’s honestly a bummer just thinking about how fun that final push could have been.
ADAM: Probably just the unresolved storylines.
Whether or not David Pastrnak or Auston Matthews can unseat Alex Ovechkin on the goal scoring leaderboard. How many players can score 50 goals? We are on track to see more than we have seen in almost 15 years!
Would Pastrnak, Ovechkin, or Matthews score 60 goals? How many points will Leon Draisaitl end up with? How will the MVP and rookie of the year race play out? The playoff races and whether or not Columbus could hold on to a spot (I picked them to make the playoffs before the season and want to see this through!) and how or if the Rangers could hang around.
JOEY: It’s not often you get a repeat of the previous year’s Stanley Cup Final, but I really believed that the Blues and Bruins could make it all the way again. Both teams added pieces to their squads since last season, so it would’ve been interesting to see if they could go the distance again.
The Bruins came so close last year and they added some size with Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie at the deadline. As for St. Louis, they added a depth defender in Marco Scandella and they also traded for Justin Faulk at the beginning of the year.
There’s still a chance the season could happen, but you’d have to wonder if this extended pause would throw everything out of whack even if they did return.
SCOTT: On a personal level, I thought the Philadelphia Flyers would reach the Eastern Conference Finals this season and I’ll be disappointed not to see that savvy prediction come true.
But the part I’ll be most disappointed about is not seeing a player or group of players elevate their game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Every year, there are a few players that carry their team throughout the postseason and the opportunity to witness that greatness is always special. The NHL postseason comes around once a year and players only get so many opportunities throughout their career to take their shot. To see young players on the cusp of greatness and seasoned veterans robbed of their chance due to a global pandemic is truly disappointing.
You have one hockey movie to watch while quarantined, what are you choosing?
SEAN: “Mystery, Alaska” is one of those movies that whenever I come across it on TV I have to watch it through the end. There’s a solid cast with Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Burt Reynolds, Mary McCormack, and Mike Myers as the Don Cherry-type commentator. This is hockey, OK? It’s not rocket surgery.
There’s drama, the New York Rangers, and the movie doesn’t give you that typical feel-good ending.
JAMES: The common answer, I’d guess, would be “Slap Shot.” The cooler answer would probably be “Red Army.”
“Pass, shoot, score” and “The legs feed the wolf” …. “We can beat these guys.” There were a lot of cheesy Herb Brooks quotes my friends and I would bat around back in the day, so that would also soothe some of that quarantine loneliness.
ADAM: Probably going to go with the original Mighty Ducks just because it seems more and more absurd every time I watch it, which then results in me laughing more and enjoying it more. Basically, I have a lot of questions about the set-up and management of that hockey league (how did nobody know Adam Banks was playing for the wrong team?!), and if Jack Riley was such a good and successful coach, why did he never advance beyond the Hawks? So many questions.
JOEY: I’ll go with the Mighty Ducks series of movies. It’s hard to argue with Emilio Estevez and the gang. Also, I’d get to roll with three different movies during the quarantine period. Gordon Bombay all the way.
SCOTT: Mystery Alaska.
The components that make up the Mystery roster are on every team throughout the hockey world; The slow-footed shrewd skater, the hot-shot superstar, the prolific passers and the “strange” goalie. ‘
Also, the national anthem prank is something I always find quite comical.
Players doing what they can to stay in shape during NHL hiatus
What do you do if you’re an NHL player and don’t have access to your team’s workout facilities? If you’re Anders Lee you order a Peloton bike. If you’re Alex Ovechkin you have your personal trainer work you out in your home gym.
The NHL’s season pause due to the coronavirus pandemic has forced players to do what they can at home. Treadmills, push-ups, sit-ups, sprints, and chasing their kids are some of the methods being used.
“The biggest thing in all of this is you realize how spoiled we are with the way we train now,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno told reporters on a Thursday video conference. “It’s way different from the calisthenics that the older guys would do. You’re kind of going back to that Rocky mentality where you’re doing pushups and sit-ups and punching the cow.”
“It’s hard to be stuck in limbo and to really not have an idea of a goal or maybe a date to set yourself up for being at your peak when the puck is dropped,” said Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal.
When not trying to stay in shape, there’s time for binge-watching — Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal both recommend the “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” Netflix documentary series — and keeping up with the team group text. For the Flyers, it was at first a group video chat, but that didn’t work out.
“We did a group FaceTime the other day and it didn’t go very well,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. “Everybody just started screaming and couldn’t hear anybody. We’re just trying to keep the group chat going.”
It’s in those chats where players discuss the latest updates from the Players’ Association and debate various hypotheticals for finishing the season.
As the players wait to find out when they’ll playing hockey again, they’re doing their best to stay busy. Lee and his wife, Grace, had their first child earlier this month. P.K. Subban of the Devils is spending time in Los Angeles with fiancee Lindsey Vonn trying to stick to his routine as close as possible. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal has been helping with his daughter’s kindergarten homework and cleaning his floors “a lot.”
The players and their families aren’t used to them being home this much at this time of the year. It’s a time of waiting and remaining optimistic.
“It’s getting to a point where you start to feel now things aren’t right,” said Foligno. “We’re used to this time of year gearing up [for playoffs] and we’re sitting around being told it’s probably going to be a little longer. It’s hard. It’s a mental game right now, but we know it’s for the right reasons. So you hold on to that and seeing what’s going on around the world, it’s kind of kept everything in perspective for us all.”
With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next three Thursdays.
The first team to enter the competition will be a roster comprised of players 23 years of age or younger. Think a Team North America in 2020. In recent years, younger players have made an instant impact at the NHL level and this team is filled with already established superstars.
First line: Sebastian Aho – Connor McDavid – David Pastrnak
Thoughts: Leon Draisaitl has benefitted greatly from playing alongside McDavid this season and the addition of two dynamic goal scorers (Aho, Pastrnak) should produce an explosive top line. Aho’s ability to light the lamp and create plays should be a perfect fit to round out the group.
Second line: Andrei Svechnikov – Auston Matthews – Patrik Laine
Thoughts: Matthews has the puck-handling skill and on-ice vision to be an elite distributor with Laine alongside him. The size of all three forwards will be tough for most defensive pairings to handle.
Third line: Kyle Connor – Jack Eichel – Mikko Rantanen
Thoughts: Can this line match up with the opposition’s best and still produce offensively? The trio has the skill to be a top line for most NHL teams, but these three will be relied upon to play a smart, efficient, two-way game.
Fourth line: Matthew Tkachuk – Dylan Larkin – Mitchell Marner
Thoughts: The inclusion of Larkin over a Mathew Barzal or Elias Pettersson will raise some questions, but he was the best option to be a fourth line center and contribute on the penalty kill. Matthew Tkachuk will provide some toughness and size to add an important element to the group.
First D pairing: Zach Werenski – Cale Makar Second D pairing: Thomas Chabot – Charlie McAvoy Third D pairing: Rasmus Dahlin – Adam Fox
Thoughts: The second pairing will likely match up against the opposition’s best, but each combination has a strong mix of complementary characteristics. I initially thought it would be tough to find a strong group of mature defensemen in this age range, but these players have established themselves as high-end D-men.
Starting Goalie: Carter Hart Backup Goalie: Ilya Samsonov
Just Missed: Mathew Barzal, Quinn Hughes, Travis Konecny, Elias Pettersson, Ivan Provorov
Captain: Connor McDavid Alternate captains: Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy
This team should not struggle to score with a ton of fire power in the offensive unit. With two of the top three and six of the top 10 goal scorers from the current season, it will be hard to contain this prolific group of forwards.
Two areas of weakness for this team are its ability to play a strong two-way game in even strength situations and kill off timely penalties. Players of this ilk have the ability to play any style but the question will be if players like Eichel and Marner could buy in to a defensive oriented role.
Additionally, their goaltenders are unproven but have the talent needed to play against the world’s best.
Nevertheless, the amount of skill on this team should help them overcome any obstacles and be a formidable challenge for any opponent. The roster has several established leaders, but young stars of the NHL are always eager to prove they belong in the conversation with the game’s best. Channeling that emotion in the proper way could be the difference between a successful tournament run or an early exit.
Quinn Hughes: The young blueliner has been sensational for the Canucks. He is currently in a tight race with Makar for the Calder Trophy awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL. But the team will need size on the backend and cannot carry three undersized defensemen.
Elias Pettersson: The Swedish center is an excellent talent but didn’t fill a need when creating the lineup. While his talent is immense, this is a player that received the short end of the stick in order to build the most complete roster.
— Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.
Signing college free agents is rare NHL business going on
Colton Poolman had a good feeling about what was to come.
He and his North Dakota teammates were ranked third in the country with the conference tournament coming up. They felt they had as good a chance as anyone to win the NCAA title until the season was abruptly canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
”It was a pretty depressing feeling around the rink, and guys were a little sad,” Poolman said. ”But after all that was done, you’ve just got to kind of flip the page and look at what’s next.”
For Poolman and others who had not been drafted by an NHL team, flipping the page happened fast. Because hockey at every level is on hiatus and rinks are empty, signing college free agents is the only real business that can be done in the NHL right now, and more than a dozen have inked contracts since the season was paused March 12.
”We’re trying (to think, ‘How do we use this time the most effectively we can?”’ said Calgary general manager Brad Treliving, who signed Poolman and top college prospect Connor Mackey to deals last week. ”This is some of the only work that can get done. Even with your own players, you have uncertainties about (next season’s salary) cap. There’s really a small market of players that are really future (entry-level) contracts that are going to be signed right now.”
This is typically the time of year teams compete over the top undrafted talent. Typically, signings happen after teams are eliminated from postseason play, which allows some players to step right into the NHL to burn a year of the initial contract.
Nothing is typical in sports right now, so executives, agents and prospects adjusted. Dean Grillo, who represents Poolman and college roommate Cole Smith – a Nashville signing – had his clients prepared to think about pro hockey at the end of March or sometime in April, factoring in potentially deep tournament runs.
Once the season was canceled, Treliving and other NHL executives moved into action and Grillo said interest in the high-end players accelerated.
”If these are the right opportunities and the right teams that we’ve done our research on, I guess why wouldn’t you move forward,” Grillo said.
Last week, the Buffalo Sabres signed forwards Brandon Biro from Penn State and Dawson DiPietro from Western Michigan; the New York Rangers signed DiPietro teammate Austin Rueschhoff; the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday signed UMass winger Mitchell Chaffee; and the Florida Panthers on Thursday signed Bowling Green defenseman Alec Rauhauser.
Players described the quick turnaround from season over to pro contract as a roller-coaster ride.
”Woke up (last) Thursday going to practice, knowing you’re going to have a game and then it going to no fans and then literally an hour and a half later to the season’s canceled. Almost hard to put into words,” Rueschhoff said. ”Even now I’m still kind of dwelling that my college career is over and having those memories and knowing you’re not going to have those memories anymore is sad. But there’s always a positive and I’m super excited to (join the Rangers) and excited to get to New York as soon as everything calms down and super excited to get my career going.”
Northeastern’s Brendan Van Riemsdyk, whose brothers James and Trevor are already in the NHL, thinks he could be starting in the ECHL next season after the weird conclusion to his college career.
”Being a senior, it was really weird to hear that your college career was going to be over while you still had games left on the table,” he said.
With the remainder of the ECHL season cancelled, the American Hockey League pausing along with the NHL and the real possibility of hockey into late summer, some of these players’ next games could be months away. The 2020 draft set for June was postponed, and agents doubt teams will hold the development camps that usually take place in July.
Rueschhoff is trying to stay in shape. Biro, after not even getting the chance to say goodbye to nine fellow seniors at Penn State, is stuck at a friend’s place in Ottawa after crossing the border because of Canada’s quarantine regulations before he can return home to Edmonton.
At least those players and the others who signed can now look forward to a pro career – eventually.
”It’s unfortunate you can’t get rolling into pro hockey right away, but it’s OK,” Mackey said. ”It happens. You just can’t plan for this stuff.”