- One team that should get a considerable boost if games resume is the Hurricanes. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti that blueliners Dougie Hamilton and Sami Vatanen could be available to return which would be a big boost to their back end. Hamilton was in the midst of a career year before fracturing his fibula in January while Vatanen has yet to play for Carolina after suffering a setback in his lower-body injury shortly after being acquired from New Jersey. Brind’Amour also indicated that goaltender James Reimer was nearing a return from his lower-body issue before the pause as well so he should also be available.
Yesterday, the NHL postponed the 2020 NHL Draft, which had been set to take place in Montreal on June 26-27. The league did not however indicate what the plan was to make up the event, which must occur in some form or fashion prior to the 2020-21 season. However, Pierre LeBrun writes for The Athletic that there are three possible solutions for the draft make-up. The least likely would be that the draft is simply postponed to a later date and takes place in Montreal as initially planned. LeBrun does not believe that a full draft, complete with teams, prospects, and fans alike in attendance, is a realistic option. Slightly more likely would be a scaled-down version, which LeBrun compares to the post-lockout draft in 2005, that still takes place in Montreal but with far less fanfare, but even this seems unlikely. The outcome most see occurring, falling in line with what junior leagues have decided for their own drafts, would be a virtual NHL Draft, wherein teams make their picks live from their individual war rooms. LeBrun mentions the possibility of a centralized location, in Montreal or elsewhere, with team reps and top prospects in attendance to react to the virtual selections.
If the draft does move to a virtual format, LeBrun reports that the league has promised Montreal that they will receive either the 2021 or 2022 NHL Draft. He adds that the NHL may even consider combining the NHL Entry Draft and NHL Expansion Draft into one week-long event in Montreal next summer. Given the rabid fan base of the city, it would be as good a location as any – barring Seattle itself maybe – to hold the Expansion Draft. If Montreal were to lose the draft this year only to gain two drafts next year, that would be quite the consolation prize.
- Count arguably the two biggest names in hockey as supporters of calling the regular season and jumping right into the playoffs. On a conference call today among representatives of each of the Metropolitan Division teams, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin lobbied for the NHL to skip the remaining regular season games and resume play with the first round of the postseason, in whatever format they choose. Crosby opined that playing as many regular season games as possible would be best for the integrity of the season, but he “wouldn’t mind starting right at the playoffs.” Ovechkin was more direct, saying that he is “bored” with the league’s current pause and that his Capitals “don’t want to play those extra games” and would “rather start the playoffs right away.” Unsurprisingly, Carolina’s Jordan Staal, whose Hurricanes are safely in the postseason right now, agrees with Ovechkin and Crosby, while brother Marc Staal of the New York Rangers, who were hot before the league postponed its action, would rather resume the regular season in hopes of getting in. Curiously though, Columbus’ Nick Foligno, whose Blue Jackets would be in the standard playoff structure by total points but not by points percentage, the likely determinant of qualification, supported a jump right to the postseason, while the New York Islanders’ Anders Lee, whose team is in the opposite situation, preferred to finish the regular season. Opinions are sure to change based on the length of the league’s pause, the options for returning to action, and the potential format of postseason play, but for now there is major support behind surrendering the regular season in favor of an immediate postseason of some sort.
- There are few NHL stakeholders who are benefiting from the current indefinite break in action. One of the only exceptions is Crosby’s teammate, Jake Guentzel. Guentzel suffered a shoulder injury in late December and was given a four-to-six-month recovery window following surgery. In a normal league year, that likely meant that Guentzel would be lucky to play again this season, only able to return for the playoffs, and almost certainly wouldn’t be able to get back to full strength. However, given the delay of the current pause, the status quo has shifted. Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review relays word from GM Jim Rutherford that Guentzel’s rehab is going well and the team is optimistic that he will play again if the season resumes. Especially considering the strong likelihood that the NHL will need a mini training camp for teams to get back to game speed, Guentzel may even be back at full strength before a potential resumption of the regular season or start of the postseason in June or July. Guentzel recorded 43 points in 39 games playing with an injury-depleted forward corps prior to his own injury and would be a major asset for the Penguins, who would be the No. 3 seed in the Metropolitan Division if the playoffs began based on the current standings.
The Carolina Hurricanes have made Tuesday morning a family affair, agreeing to terms with both David Cotton and Jason Cotton to entry-level contracts. David Cotton, the younger of the two, has been inked to a two-year deal, while Jason Cotton gets just a one-year contract. Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell released a short statement on the deals:
David and Jason both had very productive senior seasons this year. We’ve been pleased with David’s progress over his four years at Boston College, and his brother Jason was recently named a Hobey Baker Award Finalist. We’re excited to see what they can accomplish at the professional level.
David Cotton, 22, was a sixth-round selection by the Hurricanes in 2015, but Jason Cotton, 25, went undrafted and is joining the Hurricanes from unrestricted free agency. Both players recently finished their senior seasons, captaining Boston College and Sacred Heart respectively.
At this point, it’s easy to imagine more upside from David Cotton, given that he is several years younger and had more sustained success at the collegiate level. In four years, the BC forward recorded 127 points in 148 games and was even named a Hockey East First Team All-Star in 2019. His older brother meanwhile recorded just 81 points in 118 games but was named a Hobey Baker nominee after scoring 20 goals this season.
Both players will likely try their hand at the AHL level first, giving a little more depth to a Charlotte Checkers team that saw several forwards leave town during the season.
The Swiss season is over, as the NLA has decided to cancel the remainder of its season. However, that will give perennial contender EHC Biel-Bienne even more time to plan ahead for what they hope is an impact off-season. According to Swedish news source Hockey Sverige, the club plans to go after some impending NHL free agent defensemen. The trio specifically named are all Swedes and include the Anaheim Ducks’ Christian Djoos and Joel Persson and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Gustav Forsling.
Djoos, 25, was just recently traded to the Ducks by the Washington Capitals and is set to be a restricted free agent this summer. A former AHL standout, Djoos grew into a regular contributor for the Caps in the previous two seasons, but roster and salary cap pressure forced him back to the minors this year. However, since the trade to Anaheim he has played exclusively in the NHL, recording three points in nine games which is technically a career-high clip albeit in a small sample size. Given Djoos’ history and RFA status, he seems the least likely of the listed names to jump to Switzerland this summer.
Persson, 26, is an entirely different case, other than the fact that he too will be an RFA. Persson has no NHL history other than his 13 games this season with the Edmonton Oilers. An undrafted prospect who turned heads in the SHL, Persson signed with the Oilers back in 2018 but was loaned back to Sweden last season. He was extended and came over to suit up for the Oilers this year, but failed to impress and has spent the bulk of the season in the AHL. Persson was dealt to Anaheim for next to nothing – ECHL goaltender Angus Redmond and a 2022 conditional seventh-round pick – at the deadline and has not played for the Ducks yet. He could very well depart North America after a disappointing year, but may choose to head elsewhere rather than go back to Sweden. Biel could be an attractive option in this case.
Forsling, 23, is the youngest of the players named and is also the hardest to speculate on. After beginning his pro career with considerable NHL action in each of his first three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, the young defender has played exclusively in the AHL this season following an off-season trade to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are exceptionally deep on the blue line and that isn’t about to change. Heading into next season, Forsling will be eighth or ninth at best on the organization’s depth chart. As such, if the team opts to make him a qualifying offer, he could choose instead to depart North America and play a top role somewhere else. However, it’s fair to argue that remaining in the AHL may still be the better decision for his career. Of the players named, Forsling would be the least likely to stay with Biel long-term, but could produce the greatest immediate impact.
At this point, it is difficult to project that any of these three names will end up jumping to the NLA to play for Biel, especially given that all three are restricted free agents and that Djoos and Forsling have considerable NHL experience for their ages. However, if the top Swiss club pushes hard, potentially using this extended off-season to their advantage, they may be able to convince one of these three or another NHL free agent that a move to Biel to play a top pair role is the right call.
There’s little doubt that the NHL would prefer to resume the season and play out the remaining regular season games, but speculation still swirls that it may need to move directly into the playoffs depending on how long this “pause” lasts. Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic (subscription required) spoke with deputy commissioner Bill Daly who made it clear that nothing has been decided yet, but that next year’s season will not be shortened even if the playoffs leak into the summer.
If the final dozen or so games are cancelled and the league decides to move directly into the playoffs it would certainly ruffle some feathers given the standings and points percentages right now, but there are other things to consider if a chunk of the season is lopped off.
Perhaps most notably (other than the drastic financial impact it might have on next year’s cap) are how a shortened season would affect trade conditions. This is probably the last thing on the minds of league officers, but fans have already started wondering about some of the deals their teams have made in the past. Below, we’ll look at a couple of those conditions that might be influenced by a loss of the remaining games.
When the Maple Leafs went out a few weeks before the trade deadline and acquired their backup goaltender, an interesting condition was attached to one of the third-round selections heading back to the Los Angeles Kings. Should the Maple Leafs make the playoffs in 2019-20 and Campbell wins six regular season games, the 2021 third would upgrade to a second-round pick.
Through six appearances for Toronto Campbell already had three wins, and was likely going to get a few more opportunities down the stretch. If the season ends without any more regular season games, the Kings will have to hope that Toronto decides to re-sign Kyle Clifford if they want that second rounder.
The Hurricanes went out at the deadline and bought, acquiring three impact players in the process. While Vincent Trocheck and Brady Skjei immediately made an impact, Vatanen suffered a setback in his recovery and looked like he might miss the majority of Carolina’s remaining games. The fact that he hadn’t played for them yet made it look like the conditions on a 2020 fourth-round pick wouldn’t be met, but this break actually may result in a positive for the New Jersey Devils (at least in this case).
There are two games played thresholds involved in the deal for Vatanen at five and 12, which suddenly don’t seem that difficult to meet if the pause allows him to recover. Of course that would require the regular season games to be played in this scenario.
This is the one you’ve been waiting for, given how ridiculous the condition seemed at the time of the trade. To refresh your memory, the Flames will receive a 2020 third-round selection if Neal scores 21 goals and outscores Lucic by at least 10. Neal is currently 11 goals ahead of Lucic on the season, but has just 19 total. If those regular season games never get played, it would seem that the condition has not been met. Perhaps there is a prorated version in the fine print, but as of now the deal looks to be “one-for-one.”
Nothing could be more “minor” today than daily recalls and reassignments when the entire NHL and its minor league affiliates have closed their doors for the foreseeable future. However, for the sake of keeping things as hockey focused as possible during these trying times, here are the roster moves made today prior to or in light of the official shutdown announcement:
- Dealing with injuries up front, the Vegas Golden Knights recalled a trio of forwards late last night: Keegan Kolesar, Brandon Pirri, and Nicolas Roy. The group are among the best per-games scorers on the AHL’s Chicago Wolves this year. However, given the NHL’s break, the team may get healthy enough to avoid using any of them once play returns.
- CapFriendly reports that the Carolina Hurricanes have sent Morgan Geekie, the team’s sudden rookie standout, and goaltender Anton Forsberg back to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Geekie recorded three goals in his first two NHL games this week and looks like another bright young prospect for the ‘Canes to build around.
- After being called up yesterday, Colorado’s Martin Kaut, Dallas’ Joel Kiviranta, and the Rangers’ Steven Fogarty have all been reassigned today, per CapFriendly. This likely comes as a response to the shutdown. Kiviranta, signed out of Finland this summer, has played in eleven games with Dallas thus far, but has found more offense in the minors. The team would love to see signs that his scoring ability can translate to the top level before the postseason begins – whenever that is – as depth is crucial in the playoffs. Kaut is in a similar boat with the Avalanche, although the 2018 first-round pick is not as pro-tested and has not produced as well in the AHL this year. Fogarty, the veteran of this group, is in his fourth year with the Rangers’ organization out of Notre Dame and is no stranger to the up-and-down nature of his AHL depth role and is always ready to step in when needed.
Another exciting weekend has come and gone on the NHL schedule without a Philadelphia Flyers loss. The team is now tied with the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division after winning nine straight, while their cross-state rivals in Pittsburgh continue to fall behind. Tonight many hockey fans will have their sights trained on a game between the Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers, two teams that could very well face each other at some point in the playoffs. As they and the rest of the league prepare, we’ll keep track of all the minor moves.
- The New York Islanders have recalled Thomas Hickey once again as they continue to deal with injuries on the back end, and his stay could be a little longer this time. The team leaves for a four-game road trip that starts in Vancouver tomorrow, before returning home next week.
- Janne Kuokkanen has been recalled for the first time by the New Jersey Devils after coming to the organization at the trade deadline. The Carolina Hurricanes still haven’t seen Sami Vatanen in action, but New Jersey will get a closer look at one of their new prospects.
- Speaking of the Hurricanes, the team sent Alex Nedeljkovic back to the minor leagues today as Petr Mrazek prepares for his return. Mrazek may start tomorrow for the Hurricanes according to team reporter Michael Smith, though it has not yet been confirmed.
- Martin Kaut has been recalled by the Colorado Avalanche, a notable occurrence for more than just the prospect’s pocketbook. If Kaut plays in two more games this season he would burn the first year of his entry-level contract, something that was cited as the reason for his recent demotion.
- The Chicago Blackhawks have recalled Brandon Hagel under emergency conditions, giving him another chance at the NHL level. The 21-year old forward still hasn’t played a game for the Blackhawks, though this will be the fifth recall of his career.
As usual, Saturday is a busy day on the schedule with 20 teams in action including the Panthers who will be retiring Roberto Luongo’s number in advance of their game against Montreal. There should be plenty of roster movement throughout the day which we’ll keep track of here.
- The Blackhawks have assigned defenseman Dennis Gilbert to AHL Rockford, per the AHL’s Transactions Page. The 23-year-old played for them on Friday while being up on emergency recall and logged 13:36 of ice time. He has suited up 21 times for Chicago this season, picking up a goal and two assists.
- With Lawrence Pilut dealing with the flu, the Sabres announced the recall of defenseman John Gilmour from AHL Rochester. The 26-year-old blueliner has played in four games with Buffalo this season but has spent most of the year in the minors. After putting up 54 points at the AHL level a year ago, Gilmour has just 13 with Rochester so far this season.
- The Oilers announced (Twitter link) that they have assigned defenseman William Lagesson to AHL Bakersfield. With Oscar Klefbom being activated off injured reserve, the odds of Lagesson getting any NHL ice time go down considerably as he already was a regular healthy scratch but he’ll log plenty of minutes for the Condors. Meanwhile, getting Klefbom back after missing three weeks due to a shoulder issue will certainly help Edmonton’s push for first place in the Pacific Division.
- The Sharks announced the recall of defenseman Nikolai Knyzhov from the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda. The 21-year-old signed as an undrafted free agent back in July and has played in 33 AHL games this season, picking up a goal and four assists. The San Jose Sharks later announced they have recalled defenseman Nick DeSimone from the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL. The 25-year-old DeSimone has yet to make his NHL debut. He has five goals and 19 points in 48 games.
- After being recalled earlier in the week on an emergency basis, the Canucks announced (Twitter link) that they’ve returned defenseman Guillaume Brisebois to AHL Utica. The 22-year-old has been up three times with Vancouver this season but has yet to see any action with them in 2019-20.
- The New Jersey Devils announced they have recalled forward Janne Kuokkanen from the Binghamton Devils of the AHL. The Devils picked up Kuokkanen from the Carolina Hurricanes at the traded deadline for Sami Vatanen. Kuokkanen has fared quite well with Binghamton since acquired, scoring three goals and six points in four games. He has 15 goals and 48 points in 56 AHL games. The 21-year-old Kuokkanen has 11 NHL games under his belt, having played seven games with the Hurricanes last season with no points.
- The Boston Bruins announced they assigned forward Karson Kuhlman to the Providence Bruins of the AHL after the team activated defenseman Connor Clifton from injured reserve. The 24-year-old Kuhlman played in 25 games for Boston, posting one goals and six points. Clifton, has been out since Dec. 29, with an upper-body injury. While offense was never a strong point for the 24-year-old with two goals and two points in 30 games, Clifton did provide some physicality with 85 hits.
- The Carolina Hurricanes announced they have recalled forward Morgan Geekie from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. The 21-year-old center became one of the top forward options on the Checkers squad after the team traded away a number of prospects recently, including Kuokkanen, Julien Gauthier (to the New York Rangers) and Eetu Luostarinen (to the Florida Panthers). With the increased playing time, Geekie captured AHL Player of the Week honors for his performance last week, which included four goals and seven points in four games.
It has been a rough couple of weeks for Carolina as they’ve lost four straight games since both of their regular goaltenders were injured in the same game against Toronto. Fortunately for them, there is some good news on the horizon. Michael Smith of the Hurricanes’ team website notes that Petr Mrazek participated in practice for the first time since suffering a concussion in that game against the Maple Leafs. While he has already been ruled out for this weekend’s set of matinee games, he should be able to return to the lineup sometime next week. With Carolina having slipped to seventh in the very tight Metropolitan Division (though just three points out of a Wild Card spot with games in hand on everyone), that would be a huge boost for them for the stretch run.
If the Carolina Hurricanes happen to make it to the playoffs, they’ll have to do it without one of their best defensemen. Brett Pesce has been ruled out for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs following shoulder surgery. His recovery timeline has been set at four to six months, though he is expected to be ready for the start of the 2020-21 season.
Pesce, 25, was arguably the Hurricanes second-most important defenseman behind Jaccob Slavin after Dougie Hamilton was also ruled out due to injury. The defensive specialist logged nearly 22 minutes a night for Carolina, anchoring the right side at both even-strength and on the penalty kill. His absence will be a huge loss for the team down the stretch, especially with the team chasing to climb back into the playoff picture.
Fortunately, the Hurricanes may have known this was a possibility at the trade deadline, given the injury happened on February 22nd. The team acquired both Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen, though the latter has also not been cleared to play and actually suffered a setback in his own recovery today.
Pesce’s return for next season will certainly be welcomed, though there may have to be changes in Carolina over the summer. With Skjei now in town, the team has five different defensemen all set to earn at least $4MM.