PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

1 Comment

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

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

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.

Rested Phil Kessel thinks he can get back on track as Coyotes await NHL return

Leave a comment

By just about any measure, 2019-20 marked a disappointing debut season for Phil Kessel with the Arizona Coyotes. Kessel acknowledged his “tough year,” but believes that he can bounce back as an NHL return looms.

“Obviously I had a tough year,” Kessel told Alex Kinkopf of the Coyotes website. “I think it’s probably the most injuries I’ve had in a year, but that’s no excuse, right? It’s one of those years, and obviously I’m going to look to never have that again. I’ve never had a year like that.”

Kessel pointed to the pandemic pause, saying that his body “feels good” and that he’s rested.

Of course, just about any returning player probably expects to rebound from a bad season. Especially a driven one like Kessel, a player who’s reached considerable heights — both individually, and by helping the Penguins win two Stanley Cups.

But the question is: does Kessel have the ability to rebound after a 14-goal, 38-point letdown?

Kessel thinks he can bounce back, but he needs a rebound from beyond his Coyotes debut

The more interesting question is: can Kessel regain a form from longer ago?

Yes, Kessel still produced even as things soured with the Penguins (Evgeni Malkin, or otherwise). You can look at point-per-game production in 2018-19 (82 points in as many games) and even better 2017-18 numbers and think that Kessel was at his peak.

But the criticisms that once unfairly dogged Kessel caught up to him quite a while before Kessel joined the Desert Dogs. Plenty of metrics indicated that Kessel’s defensive game nullified his offense. Depending upon what you weigh and who you ask, some viewed him as a net negative toward the end of his Penguins days:

Really, the defensive criticisms of Kessel have frequently been warranted — it’s just that the tenor’s been overly harsh. Attribute it to advancing age at 32 or whatever else, but Kessel at some point declined from “worth the trouble” to “not nearly productive enough to look away” during the past few seasons.

Pandemic pause could negate (some of the) possible downside of that “ironman” streak

But one interesting consideration is: maybe Kessel has been playing at less than 100 percent for quite often?

Consider the lengths Keith Yandle has gone to maintain his league-leading active games played streak of 866 games. Kessel is right behind Yandle with an 844-game “ironman” streak of his own. Perhaps Kessel — a perceived stubborn player — has sometimes played when he shouldn’t have?

This pandemic pause gave Kessel no choice but to be more rested. Or at least not to play professional hockey.

There’s absolutely a chance that such a break would be bad for a professional athlete. Some rely on playing games and practicing to stay in shape, rather than supplementing with training.

Yet, if you want to be optimistic about Kessel returning to form, then the break is a legitimate reason to focus on. Just realize that even the “best” Kessel will probably take something from the table — you just have to hope he brings more than he takes away.

If nothing else, it would be fun to watch Kessel if he got a new lease on life with the Coyotes, both against the Predators during the Qualifying Round and possibly beyond.

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.

Reports: Edmonton, Toronto emerge as hub city favorites

9 Comments

As the NHL and NHLPA continue hammering away at a return-to-play plan, we’re closer to learning which two cities will act as hubs.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie and ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, Edmonton and Toronto have emerged as the likely destinations. Once details on Phase 3 (training camp) and Phase 4 (games being played) are finalized, the agreement would then need to be ratified by the entire Players’ Association and voted on by the NHL’s Board of Governors. Those votes could take place later this week.

Since Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league’s return-to-play plan in May, Las Vegas was seen as a lock. But the number of COVID-19 cases has surged recently, prompting both sides to look to Canada should play resume later this summer.

[MORE: NHL announces return-to-play plans]

The NHL entered Phase 2 last month, allowing players to hold voluntary workouts in small groups. The tentative plan is to open full training camps in mid-July with games taking place beginning in early August.

This is all subject to an NHL/NHLPA agreement, which could also include an extension to a Collective Bargaining Agreement that is set to expire in Sept. 2022. That deal would see a cap on escrow at 20% for 2020-21, and one season where players would defer 10% of their salary. That money would be returned to them in the future. The salary cap ceiling would also be set at around $81.5 million for the next three seasons. Compliance buyouts are not expected be part of any agreement.

And according to Pierre LeBrun, Olympic participation in 2022 and 2026 would also be in the deal between the league and union. That would then require further discussions with the International Olympic Committee before players would get the green light to go.

MORE:
NHL: 26 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 began
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft lottery results
A look at the Western Conference matchups

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Time to make changes to NHL Draft Lottery?

2 Comments

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

Changes for NHL Draft Lottery, CBA, return to play links

• Travis Yost goes deep on possible structural changes to the NHL Draft Lottery after the controversial placeholder results. Could there be some big changes, either weighing odds differently, or something like “The Gold Plan” for the NHL Draft Lottery in the future. I wouldn’t hate the idea of, say, a team only being able to win the top pick every X number of years, or something of that nature. Here’s one thing I’m sure of: people will always complain. Death, taxes, griping. [TSN]

• Depending upon whom you ask, the NHL Draft Lottery is part of the league’s larger “pursuit of mediocrity.” In all honesty, it’s tough to argue with that stance after seeing 24 of 31 teams involved in the potential return-to-play plan. [Faceoff Circle]

As noted recently on PHT, reports indicate that a CBA extension could be brewing. Lyle Richardson breaks down how that might end up looking. [Full Press Coverage]

Other hockey links, including something on EA Sports’ “NHL 95”

• While many players choose jersey numbers for trivial reasons, Canucks forward Zack McEwen has a legit reason to fight for number 71. [Sportsnet]

• The PHWA announced that Tony Gallagher won the 2020 Elmer Ferguson Award for excellence in hockey journalism. PHWA president Frank Seravalli said Gallagher “was never afraid to break a few eggs in writing his daily omelette” while covering the Vancouver hockey market. [PHWA]

• We often focus on how many goals a player scores, but it can be fascinating to dig deeper. It turns out that Max Pacioretty wasn’t just one of three players with 300+ SOG this season. He also topped all players with 192 wrist shots. [Sin Bin Vegas]

• Did the Lightning pay too big of a price in the Blake Coleman trade? The pandemic pause certainly heightens the chances of the answer being “Yes.” [Raw Charge]

• To be clear, it’s been a bumpy first Stars season for Joe Pavelski. In the grand scheme of things, Pavelski ultimately got what he was looking for when he signed with Dallas. [The Hockey News]

• Dan Saraceni provides some wonderful memories of “NHL 95” on Sega Genesis. Saraceni goes into the greatest detail on the game’s GM mode, a truly rare feature for the era.

EA Sports NHL 95 GM PHT Morning Skate Draft Lottery changes
via EA Sports/Lighthouse Hockey

The post is a lot of fun to read, especially if you enjoy PHT’s video game series. [Lighthouse Hockey]

• In case you missed it, Chris Thorburn retired from the NHL after winning a Stanley Cup with the Blues. What’s next? He’d like to mentor other players. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

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: 26 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 began (June 8)

NHL announces 26 players tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 began
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NHL announced that 26 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since the Phase 2 process began on June 8.

To be more specific, the NHL split up the positive COVID-19 test results this way:

  • 15 players involved in Phase 2 (skating in small groups at team facilities) tested positive for COVID-19. The NHL notes that at least 250 players reported to team facilities during Phase 2. During that process, the league administered at least 1,450 COVID-19 tests on those players.
  • Of course, there are also players who haven’t reported to team facilities. The NHL revealed that it is aware of 11 additional players who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 since June 8, the beginning of Phase 2. Note that players outside of Phase 2 aren’t subjected to the same level of oversight as those voluntarily reporting to teams.

The NHL added that all players who tested positive have self-isolated and are following CDC/Health Canada protocols.

Here’s the full NHL release on 26 players testing positive for COVID-19:

 

On June 19, the Lightning shut down their team facilities after three players and multiple staff members tested positive for COVID-19. That only represented a brief pause, though, as the Lightning jumped back into Phase 2 on June 24. Around that time, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun also reported that Auston Matthews tested positive for COVID-19. The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t confirm or deny that report.

Pondering what’s next after 26 NHL players test positive for COVID-19 during Phase 2

The Athletic’s Joe Smith recently took a look at the Lightning resuming Phase 2 (sub required). That article conveys the self-quarantine process. Yet, at the same time, Smith also captures the lack of certainty amid this pandemic.

In other NHL return-to-play news, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the league is unlikely to make hub city announcements on Monday:

Various reports indicate that the NHL hopes to transition from Phase 2 to Phase 3 (formal training camps) in mid-July. Earlier, it was indicated that the target date was July 10. That might change thanks to recent events, however. In the latest edition of “31 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman reported that the date could be moved by “three to five days, max.”

To get even more hopeful, the aim is for a full NHL return (Phase 4) in late July or early August. Obviously, that’s a work in progress. The NHL would need to clear hurdles to get there, especially if more players test positive for COVID-19.

Positive tests for COVID-19, hub city issues, and more NHL return stories:

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.