NHL News & Notes to 26 May 2019. STL vs Bruins Cup final starts Monday.

Decided to publish this week since the Cup finals start today.

League

  • Buffalo is hosting the NHL Scouting Combine this week. This is where players eligible to be drafted in June gather, are put through fitness testing and interviewed by teams. League management/GM’s are mostly all in attendance. The league announced top prospects Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, Bowen Bryam, Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach and Alex Turcotte are the six players that will make up top prospects media group. We could see some player movement or the start of discussions could occur as most of the 31 team GM’s are attending the event.
  • There were some rumblings this week that the league will not be going to China for preseason games this fall but no official announcement from the league has been made yet. The past two seasons the league has had games in China (Beijing and Shanghai) to promote the NHL in Asia particularly in advance of the 2022 Winter Olympics that are being held in China. No reason was discussed for not going. The league is planning to continue to grow the game in Asia so I expect games to he held there again in the future.
  • Commissioner Gary Bettman is scheduled to speak on Monday (May 27) before Game 1 of the Cup finals. Many people are expecting the topic of video review to be discussed.
  • With the Coyotes, there is expected to be an ownership change announced soon with current owner/hedge fund manager Anthony Barroway taking a minority position. He is currently the Coyotes majority owner. Apparently this issue is going to be discussed at the next Board of Governors meeting which is around the time of the NHL Awards (mid June in Las Vegas).
  • Rene Fasel, President of the International Ice Hockey Federation, recently said they are looking at a time frame of September 2020 to have a commitment from the NHL on letting their players participate in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. NHL owners have generally been against letting players go since the league closes for two weeks mid season.
  • An independent arbitrator ruled that former LA Kings defenseman Slava Voynov is eligible to return to the NHL after the 41 game mark of the 2019-20 season. The NHL handed the player a one year suspension, the entire 2019-20 season, for a domestic violence incident that occurred back in October 2014 but the arbitrator ruled the player has already missed half a season and is thus eligible to return to the league after 41 games. Kind of mixed views on whether a team wants to take a chance on the player. LA indicated he won’t be back with their organization but they still hold his rights so any interested team would have to make a deal with them. Voynov last played in the NHL back in the 2013-14 season. He did not play at all this past season but, before that, played in the KHL for 3 seasons.

Team Management News

  • The Minnesota Wild announced Hockey Hall of Fame player Mike Modano was hired as an Executive Advisor. Modano will start with the Wild on September 1 and will be working with Wild President Matt Majka and owner Craig Leipold on initiatives related to sales, corporate partnerships and community relations. Modano previously worked for the Dallas Stars, from 2013-15, as an Executive Advisor and Alternate Governor.
  • Ottawa hired former Leafs assistant coach DJ Smith as their new head coach. Smith’s deal is for 3 seasons. There were 6-7 candidates in the running for the position but GM Dorion believes Smith, 42, will be able to work particularly well with the Senators young players. Smith is a noted strong communicator who Dorian thought was the right fit at this point in the progression of their rebuild. Before joining the Leafs as an assistant coach, he was head coach in Oshawa (OHL) where he worked with Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe. He was also an assistant coach with the Windsor Spitfires where he won the OHL Championship back in 2014-15.
  • Penguins assistant coach Jacques Martin will return to the Penguins as an assistant coach under Mike Sullivan. Martin reportedly has one year left on his contract. He was in running for the Senators head coaching position.
  • The final two open head coaching positions (not including St. Louis where Craig Berube is interim until the two sides reach a contract agreement) are the Oilers and Anaheim. New Oilers GM Ken Holland reportedly met with Dave Tippett last week in Vancouver. Not a lot more news than that but it seems as though it will be Tippett. Holland is attending the Draft Combine this week in Buffalo so no announcement would be made until the week of June 3, at the earliest. Ken Hitchcock is acting as an advisor to Holland on the coaching hire.
  • Sharks GM Doug Wilson said recently that head coach Peter DeBoer will return behind the Sharks bench next season.
  • The Blackhawks announced Tomas Mitell has been hired as an assistant coach on head coach Jeremy Colliton’s staff. Mitell was head coach in the Swedish Hockey League the past two season’s and had a 64-27-13 record. He served as an assistant under Colliton during the 2016-17 season in the Swedish league. The ‘Hawks have a young coaching staff as Colliton is just 34 and Mitell is 38.
  • The Oilers parted ways with their Director of Pro Scouting Duane Sutter last week. They also moved out JJ Hebert who was in charge of team public relations. VP of Player Personnel Scott Howson, formerly GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is still with the organization.

Scuttlebutt

  • Seems Penguins forward Phil Kessel will be moved this summer. There was apparently a deal in place for Kessel to go to Minnesota for forward Jason Zucker plus former Hurricanes forward Victor Rask but the Wild are on Kessel’s eight team “no trade” list and he did not want to waive it. The Wild are apparently looking to play faster, more offensive brand of hockey next season. Kessel is 32 but, over an 800+ game NHL career, has averaged .83 PPG plus he now has 2 Cups.
  • Some player agents believe the offer sheet possibility is more likely this summer with players such as Leafs Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen possibly getting offers. Team’s know the Leafs are in a salary cap crunch. For players offered $4 M /season or less, the compensation going back, if the other team doesn’t match, is a 2nd round draft pick.
  • The agent for pending UFA Jeff Skinner and Sabres GM Jason Botterill will reportedly continue negotiations at the Draft Combine this week in Buffalo.
  • There’s been some speculation that Lightning forward Ryan Callahan could end up with the Sabres. Callahan is owed $5.8 M in the final year of his deal (for the 2019-20 season). The Lightning reportedly would have to retain salary to make a deal with the Sabres. It seems doubtful Callahan is back with the Lightning next season.
  • Pending UFA defenseman Erik Karlsson is apparently looking at either the Lightning, NY Rangers or San Jose Sharks on July 1 (he’s a UFA). There’s been some talk Karlsson may have surgery on his injured groin that hampered him all season. I believe this injury is affecting team’s interest in signing him to a max / 7 year deal at Drew Doughty money ($11 M/season). Karlsson struggled all season with the injury and in the post-season.

Cup Finals Notes

  • The Blues and Bruins have each scored 57 goals in these playoffs.
    • 1st period: 16-16
    • 2nd period: 16-16
    • 3rd period: 24-24
    • OT: 1-1
  • GM of the Year candidate Doug Armstrong is getting a lot of credit now that the Blues are in the finals. Four of the Blues top nine points leaders were acquired this summer by Armstrong including Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon.
  • Blues head coach Craig Berube said the other day the Blues are playing better as the post-season goes on and their physical play has worn down some of their post-season opponents.
  • Berube is just the 11th coach all-time to take over a team mid-season and make it to the Cup finals.
  • This is the 4th time in their franchise history the Blues have made the Cup finals and they’ve yet to win a game. Their most recent visit was May 1970. In their past three Cup finals appearances:
    • 1970 Swept in 4 straight games against Boston
    • 1969 Swept in 4 straight games against Montreal
    • 1968 Swept in 4 straight games against Montreal
  • Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo has set a franchise record for post season points in a season for a defenseman with 13.
  • Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester played the 7th most regular season games (1,184 games) before reaching the Cup finals. Dave Andreychuk leads that list with 1,597 games played before reaching the Cup finals. Patrick Marleau in second with 1,411 games played and never reaching the final series.
  • Leading Conn Smythe (playoffs MVP) candidate Tuukka Rask is three wins away from reaching 50 career post-season wins. He’ll be just the second netminder (Cheevers the other) in the 95 year history of the Bruins franchise to reach 50 career post-season wins. Gerry Cheevers leads the Bruins in all-time post-season wins with 53.
  • The Bruins PP in the post-season is converting at a rate of 34%.

World Championship

  • Team Finland captured the gold with Canada taking the silver and Russia taking the bronze. The Finns defeated Sweden, Russia and Canada in the medal round. Finland also won goal at the World Juniors this past January.
  • Canada advanced to the Gold Medal game for the 4th time in the past 5 tournament (won Gold in 2015 and 2016 and Silver in 2017). In the gold medal game, Canada out shot Finland 44-22 but lost 3-1.
  • Canada’s assistant captain Mark Stone was named tournament MVP. He led all players with 8 goals and added 14 assists in for 22 points in 10 games.
  • Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko, who is expected to go second overall to the NY Rangers at the June entry draft, has now won 3 gold medals, at the Under 18’s, the Under 20’s and now the World Championships. This is just the past calendar year. Kakko just turned 18 years old.
  • It seems winning the World Championships is a lot bigger deal in Europe than North America. In Finland, there was 2.43 million viewers tuned in to the quarter finals game against the Swedes.
  • Leafs William Nylander had a strong tournament with 18 points in 8 games. The Swedes finished the tournament in 5th place. Rikard Gronborg, who was in consideration for the Sabres head coaching position, was the Swedes head coach.

Signings

  • The New York Islanders signed forward Brock Nelson to a six year, $36 M contract ($6 M/season for 6 years). Nelson recorded 25 goals and 28 assists for 53 points in 82 games. He’s 27 years old and was drafted by the Isles 30th overall in 2010. Sounds as though the Islanders want to get their captain, Anders Lee, name on a contract as well as fellow July 1, 2019 UFA goaltender Robin Lehner. Seems forward and pending UFA Jordan Eberle will go to July 1 where he can sign with any team.
  • Winnipeg Jets signed goaltender Laurent Brossoit to a one year contract for $1.225 M. Brossoit, 26, was a UFA. In 21 appearances last season for the Jets, his record was 13 wins, 6 losses and 2 OTL’s. His GAA was 2.52 and SV% .925.
  • Montreal signed defenseman Brett Kulak to a 3 year, $5.5 M contract (AAV $1.85 M).
  • The Avalanche signed goaltender Pavel Francouz to a one year, one way contract. Francouz played this past season with the Avs AHL team, the Colorado Eagles, where he recorded a 27-17-3 record in 49 games with a 2.68 GAA and a .918 SV% with 3 shutouts. Francouz spent 3 seasons in the KHL before signing with the Avs in 2017. Looking to next season, the Avs starter is expected to be Phillip Grubauer. Semyon Varlamov is a UFA on July 1, 2019 so Francouz could be the Avs back-up.
  • The Oilers signed free agent forward Joakim Nygard to a one year entry level contract. This past season in the Swedish Hockey League, Nygard recorded 21 goals and 14 assists for 35 points in 52 games played. Nygard’s 21 goals was 2nd most in the SHL for the 2018-19 season. Read where a scout said Nygard is super fast but about a 3rd or 4th liner plus possibly penalty killer at the NHL level. There were reportedly about 20 NHL teams interested in signing the player. After the 2019-20 season, Nygard will be unrestricted.
  • The Oilers also signed goaltender Olivier Rodrigue to a 3 year entry level contract. The 18 yo Quebec native recorded a 35-12 record with a 2.43 GAA and .902 SV% with the QMJHL Drummondville Voltigeurs this season. Rodrigue was drafted in the 2nd round in 2018, 62nd overall.

Sharks

  • Since GM Doug Wilson took over as GM of the Sharks in the 2003-04 season, their organization has played in the most post-season games (174) of any team. The Penguins with their 3 Cups are next with 173. The Sharks have been to the Cup finals once and have been to three Western Conference finals in the past 10 years but the Cup has so far eluded their franchise.
  • Sharks forward Joe Thornton said he’s not ready to make any decisions on his future but, if he is back for another season, it will only be with the Sharks. Thornton turns 40 on July 2. Since Thornton was acquired from the Bruins back in 2005, he has accumulated the 3rd most points (1,024) of any NHL player. Only Crosby and Ovechkin have more. Thornton recorded 51 points in 72 games this season which is incredible as he’s had back to back season’s where he’s been recovering from ACL/MCL surgery on his knee.
  • Pending UFA forward Joe Pavelski said he’s “pretty confident” he’ll be back with the Sharks next season. Pavelski turns 35 this summer. He had a terrific season for the Sharks recording 38 goals and 26 assists for 64 points in 75 games.

Leafs

  • The Leafs announced Paul McFarland has been added as an assistant coach on Mike Babcock’s staff. McFarland, 33, has worked as an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers for the past 2 seasons where he ran the #2 in the league PP. He’ll handle the forwards and PP for the Leafs. McFarland was head coach of the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL from 2014-16 and had had a 111-71-22 record. McFarland has an Education degree from Acadia University.
  • The team also announced assistant coach Jim Hiller was granted permission to seek opportunities outside the Leafs organization. He has apparently interviewed with Nashville and Arizona.
  • Seems as though Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe in next in line to be the Leafs head coach. It doesn’t appear Keefe is going to be a Leafs assistant or an assistant anywhere first. Some people believe it’d be better for him to be an assistant at the NHL level but he seems to indicate his goal is to be a head coach only. Experts see that Babcock is looking for an experienced NHL coach to take Hiller position, running the defense and PK, and Keefe is does not fit that role. Some names being mentioned to replace Hiller include former LA head coach John Stevens, former Senators assistant Marc Crawford or Dave Lowry (former assistant coach with the LA Kings).
  • The Canadian Hockey League goaltender of the year is Leafs Ian Scott. Scott went 38-8-1-2 with a .932 SV% and a 1.83 GAA for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders in the regular season. He also lead the Raiders to the WHL championship this season. He was drafted 103rd overall by the Leafs in 2017.
  • The Marlies were knocked out of the of the AHL post-season losing the Conference finals to the Charlotte Checkers 4 games to 2. Game 6 in Charlotte when to double OT. The Marlies went 9-4 in the post-season. Charlotte now advances to the Calder Cup finals where they’ll play the  Chicago Wolves (Vegas’ AHL club).
  • Marlies forward Trevor Moore recorded 5 goals in 10 post-season games. Seems he’ll be a full-time NHL player in the 2019-20 season.

Odds & Ends

  • The Canadian Hockey League player of the year is Alexis Lafreniere. This season playing for Rimouski of the QMJHL, Lafreniere recorded 37 goals & 68 assists for 105 points in 61 games played. Lafreniere, 17, is expected to go first overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
  • Vancouver Giants (WHL) defenseman Bowen Byram was named Canadian Hockey League top prospect. Byram will go in the top 5 in the June (2019) entry draft.
  • New York Rangers prospect defenseman Adam Fox was named the Jim Johannson player of the year by USA Hockey.
  • Noah Dobson, drafted 12th overall by the Islanders in 2018, now has 2 Memorial Cups. His team, Rouyn-Noranda defeated Halifax 4-2 in the Memorial Cup final.
  • The Golden Knights are building a new practice rink and training facility in Henderson, Nevada. The facility will have two NHL size ice rinks, retail space and 5,000 square feet of meeting space.
  • The Raptors have a chance to break Canada’s pro sports championship drought. A Canadian-based team has not won the Cup since 1993 (Montreal) but with the Raptors in the NBA Finals, they could win their first championship since becoming a Canadian sports franchise in 1995.
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