Ottawa Senators’ future looking bright

The Ottawa Senators were one of the few teams who didn’t play after the NHL paused its schedule in mid-March as they simply weren’t good enough to make the expanded playoff scenario. However, things could be a lot different in the 2020/21 campaign as the club as made several offseason moves to improve the roster. In addition, Ottawa also had three first-round picks in the recent NHL Entry Draft.

One of the most important acquisitions has been goaltender Matt Murray, who was brought over in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Jonathan Gruden and second-round draft pick this year. Murray adds plenty of experience as he won a pair of Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in 2015/16 and 2016/17 and has been one of the league’s upper-echelon netminders over the past few years.

The team also acquired blue liner Erik Gudbranson in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks and signed unrestricted free agents Alexander Galchenyuk from Pittsburgh and Evgenii Dadonov from the Florida Panthers, making general manager Pierre Dorion a busy man so far in the offseason. It’s understandable why Dorion has been working overtime since Ottawa finished in second-last place in the Eastern Conference last season with a record of 25-34-12 for 62 points and a points percentage of .437.

The Senators have missed the playoffs the past three seasons but with the 26-year-old Murray signing a four-year contract the team should certainly be blessed with more consistent goaltending. Murray has posted a minimum of 20 wins in each of the last four NHL seasons and went 20-11-5 in 2019/20 with a goals-against average of 2.87 in 38 outings. He also has a 91.4 save percentage in 199 career regular-season NHL games.

The 28-year-old Gudbranson is expected to be a physical presence on the blue line while the 31-year-old Dadonov and 26-year-old Galchenyuk should bring some offensive flair. Ottawa also picked up 28-year-old forward Austin Watson in a deal with the Nashville Predators as well as defender Josh Brown in a trade with Florida. Dorion then used his first-round draft picks to take forward Tim Stuetzle third overall, rearguard Jake Sanderson fifth overall and forward Ridly Greig 28th.

Of course, the Senators also lost some pieces of the puzzle as forward Bobby Ryan signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent after Ottawa bought out his contract. In addition, veteran goalie Craig Anderson wasn’t re-signed and is an unrestricted free agent while defenceman Mark Borowiecki signed with Nashville. Forward Anthony Duclair is also currently an unrestricted free agent after posting 23 goals and 40 points in 66 games last season and so is defenceman Ron Hainsey. Forward Mikkel Boedker also left the team to sign with HC Davos in Switzerland.

As far as young prospects go for the upcoming season, the 18-year-old  Tim Stuetzle notched seven goals and 34 points for Mannheim in Germany last season while 21-year-old forward Josh Norris racked up 31 goals and 61 points for in 56 outings for Belleville in the American Hockey League and 21-year-old forward  Alex Formenton posted 27 goals and 53 points in 61 AHL contests. The Senators already had some fine players with the likes of forwards Brady Tkachuk and Artem Anisimov and blue liner Thomas Chabot.

The Senators may not become a powerhouse over night, but the club is definitely on the right track. Given time, they should gradually and steadily start to climb the NHL standings over the next few seasons and could soon find themselves back in the playoff mix.


Start date and length of next NHL season still up in the air

When the puck will drop to the 2020/21 NHL season and exactly how long it will last is still anybody’s guess. The league announced it is looking at January 1st as a possible season-opening date but it’s too early to tell if it’s going to be realistic. If teams can hit the ice by New Year’s Day, it’s possible that a full 82-game schedule could be played. But the longer the league waits to get going the shorter the campaign will likely be.

The main reason for this is because the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan are scheduled to begin on July 23rd. With the NBC network televising NHL games in America as well as the Olympics, an overlap isn’t really feasible unless NHL games are broadcast on a delayed basis. Therefore, if the season doesn’t get underway until February, fans may see a shortened schedule of anywhere from 48 to 60 regular-season games before the playoffs.

Of course, the uncertainty is due to Covid-19 and the ever-changing rules and regulations that come with the virus. Currently, it looks like the Canadian clubs may remain in their own nation and play each other in a seven-team division. Much like MLS soccer and Major League Baseball, Canadian teams aren’t likely to be flying in and out of the USA until things change drastically.

This isn’t written in stone though since current 14-day quarantine periods for those crossing the border could be relaxed in the near future due to the introduction of rapid Covid-19 testing at certain airports. If arriving players can be tested when landing then cross-border travel will become a more reasonable option. Clubs would be able to safely visit other cities to play. However, common sense would see teams playing at least two games when visiting another city before moving on to the next nearby town.

For instance, if the Los Angeles Kings head to the New York area, they could play two games each against the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers etc. before taking off again. The same scenario would take place in other areas of North America where teams are based in the same geographical region such as Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

The only thing that is guaranteed for the 2020/21 season is that the Winter Classic game in Minnesota on New Year’s Day won’t be taking place and neither will the All-Star weekend in Florida later in the month. And as far as fans go, it’s possible some NHL rinks may allow a certain number to attend games in person, much like MLS and MLB stadiums have recently been doing.

Right now, the NHL is evaluating all scenarios and monitoring the Covid-19 situation across North America. This includes travel restrictions and government guidelines and how they affect public gatherings. The best-case scenario for the league would see all major airports open rapid-testing stations for arriving flights to eliminate or shorten the current 14-day mandatory quarantine requirements.

As far as the other North American hockey leagues are concerned, the American Hockey League hopes to begin on December 4th while the East Coast Hockey League plans on having some teams face off for the first time on December 11th with the rest of the clubs joining in on January 15th. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is already underway while the Ontario Hockey League has pencilled in December 1st as the opening day and the Western Hockey League is looking at January 8th.

Salary arbitration next in busy NHL offseason

Hockey fans have already been treated to the Entry Draft, the start of free agency and numerous trades since the Tampa Bay Lightning were crowned Stanley Cup champion a few weeks ago and salary arbitration is now on deck.

Salary arbitration is for restricted free agents who qualify as a way to settle contract offers and disputes. The hockey club and player each propose an expected salary amount for an upcoming season and argue their cases before a third-party arbitrator. The arbitrator then decides which contract offer is the fairest and both parties then abide to it. However, the team or player can simply walk away from the decision of they choose.

The current arbitration system was introduced following the 1994/95 NHL lockout and is covered by the collective bargaining agreement agreed to by the NHL Players’ Association and the league. Restricted free agency is ruled by a combination of a player’s age when being signed to their first professional contract as well as their amount of experience in any of the world’s pro hockey leagues.

Those who ink their first contracts from the age of 18 to 21 will be restricted free agents following their first three seasons of pro experience. Players who first signed at 22 or 23 become restricted free agents with two years of pro experience and if signing your first pro deal at the age of 24 or older you qualify as a restricted free agent following the first year of experience.

There are one, two and three-year standard entry-level contracts which all players entering the NHL must sign if they’re under the age of 25. The length of the contract depends on their age with shorter deals for older players. Typically, a drafted player signs a three-year entry-level contract and becomes a restricted free agent when it expires.

When the contract is over their NHL club has to give them a qualifying offer for a new one-year deal after the Entry Draft. This enables the team to retain negotiating rights with the player. If a team doesn’t send a qualifying offer then the player is eligible for unrestricted free agency. Depending on the player’s previous salary, qualifying offers must include a raise of five or 10 per cent unless they were making over $1 million a season. In this case, the qualifying offer has to be at least equal to the previous salary.

A player has the right to decline a qualifying offer and remain a restricted free agent. Those who turn the offer down can negotiate a new contract with the club but won’t be able to play in the NHL if they haven’t agreed to terms by a specific date, which is generally December 1st. Restricted free agents are eligible to speak with other NHL clubs and allowed to sign an offer sheet with a team if one is received. If an offer sheet is signed, his club has the right to match it within seven days but isn’t allowed to trade him or negotiate a contract during this time.

If the offer sheet is matched and the player stays, his team isn’t allowed to trade him for a year. If an offer sheet isn’t matched, the team that signs the player must give up draft picks as compensation. The exact draft picks and the number of them are determined by the average annual dollar-size of the contract over five years. The more the contract is worth the more draft picks have to be given up. Restricted free agents can also sit out the season if they don’t sign. .

Restricted free agents who have played in the NHL for a minimum of four years or signed their first professional contract at 20 years of age or older are eligible to request salary arbitration. The player’s club also has the right to request arbitration. If the ruling favours the player and the player requested arbitration, the team must decide within 48 hours if it wants to pay the salary or let the player qualify for unrestricted free agency by walking away from the deal. If the team requested arbitration they can’t walk away and have to abide by the arbitrator’s decision.

The most common evidence used in hearings includes a player’s statistics, overall performance, games played, injuries, illnesses, length of service in the league and with the club and their leadership qualities. In addition, the player’s salary is often compared to that of players in the league with similar statistics etc.

The NHL and Major League Baseball are the only two major North American sports to use the arbitration system. This year’s arbitration hearings are scheduled to be held between Oct. 21st and Nov. 8th with 26 players restricted free agents having filed.

Defenceman Matt Grzelcyk of the Boston Bruins was scheduled for a hearing on Oct. 20 but agreed to a four-year deal with the club worth a total of $14.75 million on Oct. 17.Other players who signed before their hearings were goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen with Minnesota, blue liner Ryan Graves with Colorado, forward Nick Paul with Ottawa, netminder Alexandar Georgiev with the New York Rangers, forward , Clark Bishop with Carolina and forward Andrew Mangiapane with Calgary.

The remaining players scheduled for salary arbitration are:

Buffalo Sabres: Victor Olofsson, F; Sam Reinhart, F; Linus Ullmark, G

Carolina Hurricanes: Haydn Fleury, D; Warren Foegele, F; Gustav Forsling, D

Colorado Avalanche: Devon Toews, D

Detroit Red Wings: Tyler Bertuzzi, F

Florida Panthers: MacKenzie Weegar, D

New York Islanders: Joshua Ho-Sang, F; Ryan Pulock, D

New York Rangers: Brendan Lemieux, F; Ryan Strome, F

Ottawa Senators: Connor Brown, F; Christian Jaros, D; Nick Paul, F; Chris Tierney , F

Toronto Maple Leafs; Ilya Mikheyev, F

Vancouver Canucks: Jake Virtanen, F

NHL free agency frenzy kicks off

In a normal year, the NHL would have just faced off in early October for another long season. However, these aren’t normal times and the league just just completed its Entry Draft with the free agency frenzy following on Oct. 9th. Below is a wrap up of the major signings and as of Oct. 11th.

Major NHL Free Agent Signings

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks signed rearguard Kevin Shattenkirk from Tampa Bay for three years for  $11.7M.

Arizona Coyotes: Forward Tyler Pitlick was signed from Philadelphia for two years at $3.5M

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres managed to snag former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall for one year at $8 million. The forward played with New Jersey and Arizona last season. They also inked forward Cody Eakin from Winnipeg to a two-year deal for $4.5M. Defender Brandon Montour was re-signed for a year at $3.85M.

Calgary Flames: The Flames grabbed goaltender Jakob Markstrom from Vancouver for six years for $36M and blue liner Chris Tanev from Vancouver for four years at $18M.

Carolina Hurricanes: Forward Jesper Fast was inked from the New York Rangers for three years for $6M.

Chicago Blackhawks: Forward Dominik Kubalik was re-signed for two years for $7.4M.

Colorado Avalanche: Forward Andre Burakovsky was re-signed for two years for $9.8M and forward Valeri Nichushkin was re-signed for two years at $5M. .

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Jackets signed forward Mikko Koivu from Minnesota for a season at  $1.5M.

Dallas Stars: The Stars re-signed goaltender Anton Khudobin for three years for $10M and centre Radek Faska for $16.25M over five years.

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings signed forward Vladislav Namestnikov from Colorado for two years for $4M. Goaltender Thomas Greiss was inked from the New New York Islanders for two years for $7.2M and forward Bobby Ryan from Ottawa for a year at $1M. Defender Troy Stetcher was taken from Vancouver for two years at $3.4M.

Edmonton Oilers: Goaltender Mike Smith was re-signed for another season at $2M while blue liner Tyson Barrie was signed from Toronto for a season at $3.75M. Forward Tyler Ennis was re-signed for a year at $1M while forward Kyle Turris was inked from Nashville for two years for $3.3M.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers inked forward Alexander Wennberg from Columbus for a year at $2.25M and forward Carter Verhaeghe from Tampa for two years for $2M. They also grabbed blue liner Radko Gudas from Washington for three years at $7.5M.

Minnesota Wild: Goaltender Cam Talbot was signed from Calgary for three years at $11M.

Nashville Predators: Nashville signed forward Nick Cousins from Vegas for two years for $3M and defenceman Matt Benning from Edmonton for two years at $2M. They also took defenceman Mark Borowiecki from Ottawa for two years for $4M.

New Jersey Devils: Goaltender Corey Crawford was signed from Chicago for two years for $7.8M.

New York Rangers: The Blueshirts inked defenceman Jack Johnson from Pittsburgh for a year at $1M.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues signed forward Kyle Clifford from Toronto two years for$2M. They also snagged defenceman Torey Krug from Boston for seven years for seven years for $45.5M.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Forward Patrick Maroon was re-signed for two years at $1.8M and defender Luke Schenn was kept for another year for $800K.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs signed defender Zach Bogosian from Tampa for a year at $1M and defender T.J. Brodie from Calgary for four years for $20M. Forward Wayne Simmonds was signed from Buffalo for $1.5 million for a year and forward Jimmy Vesey was also signed from Buffalo for $900k for a season. Forward Travis Boyd was inked from Washington for a year at $700k.

Vancouver Canucks: Vancouver signed goaltender Braden Holtby from Washington for two years for $8.6M.

Washington Capitals: The Caps inked Trevor van Riemsdyk from Carolina for a year at $800k and fellow blue liner Justin Schultz from Pittsburgh for two years for $8M. They also took goaltender Henrik Lundquist from the New York Rangers for a season at $1.5M.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets re-signed defenceman Nathan Beaulieu for two years for $2.5M.

NHL Draft kicks off busy offseason

The first round of the NHL Entry Draft was held on Oct. 6th with the draft lottery winners the New York rangers surprising nobody by selecting Alexis Lafreniere first overall. The 18-year-old left-winger from Rimouski of the QMJHL notched 35 goals and 77 assists for 112 points in 57 games this season for an average of 2.15 points-per-game. The only two players 18 or younger to average more points-per-game in a junior season over the past 20 years have been Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Drouin.

  1. The Los Angeles Kings picked Quinton Byfield from Sudbury of the OHL next after the 6-foot-4-inch, 215 lb centre posted 32 goals and 50 assists for 82 points in 45 outings this season. Byfield makes history as being the highest-drafted black player in league history. His 1.82 points-per-game were fifth best in the OHL this year.
  1. The Ottawa Senators had the third pick and took left-winger Tim Stutzle from Mannheim, Germany. He tallied seven goals and 27 helpers for m34 points in 41 contests this year
  1. The Detroit Red Wings selected left-winger Lucas Raymond from Frolunda, Sweden with the fourth pick after he scored four goals and six assists in 33 games this season in the Under-20 League in Sweden.
  1. The fifth pick belonged to the Ottawa Senators who chose defenceman Jake Sanderson from the USA U18 National development Team after contributing seven goals and 22 assists for 29 points in 47 outings.
  1. The Anaheim Ducks chose blue liner Jamie Drysdale from Erie of the OHL with the sixth pick following his season of nine goals and 38 assists for 47 points in 49 games.
  1. Right-winger Alexander Holtz went seventh overall to the New Jersey Devils. The righ-winger played with Djurgarden in Sweden last season and posted nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in 35 encounters.
  1. The Buffalo Sabres selected right-winger Jack Quinn eighth from Ottawa of the OHL after he chipped in with 52 goals and 37 assists for 89 points in 62 games.
  2. The ninth overall pick was used by the Minnesota Wild and they chose Austrian centre Marco Rossi from Ottawa of the OHL. He’s just 5-feet-9-inches tall but notched 39 goals and 81 assists for 120 points in 56 games this season for an average of 2.14 points-per-game.
  1. The Winnipeg Jets selected 10th and took centre Cole Perfetti from Saginaw of the OHL after he scored 37 goals and 74 assists for 11 points in 61 games this year.

The remainder of the first round of the draft went as follows

  1. Nashville Predators: Goaltender Yaroslav Askarov from Neva St. Petersburg (Russia 2)-Stats: 18 GP, 0.92 Save Pct., 2.45 GAA
  1. Florida Panthers: Centre Anton Lundell from HIFK (Finland)-Stats: 44 GP, 10 G, 18 A
  1. Carolina Hurricanes: Centre Seth Jarvis from Portland (WHL)-Stats: 58 GP, 42 G, 56 A
  1. Edmonton Oilers: Centre Dylan Holloway from Wisconsin (Big Ten)-Stats: 35 GP, 8 G, 9 A
  1. Toronto Maple Leafs: Left-winger Rodion Amirov-unrestricted free agent from KHL in Russia-Stats: 21 GP, 0 G, 2 A
  1. Montreal Canadiens: Defenceman Kaiden Guhle from Prince Albert (WHL)-Stats: 64 GP, 11 G, 29
  2. Chicago Blackhawks: Left-winger Lukas Reichel from Eisbaren Berlin (Germany)-Stats: 42 GP, 12 G, 12 A
  1. New Jersey Devils: Centre Dawson Mercer from Chicoutimi (QMJHL)-Stats: 42 GP, 24 G, 36 A
  1. New York Rangers: Defenceman Braden Schneider from Brandon (WHL)-Stats: 60 GP, 7 G, 35 A
  1. New Jersey Devils: Defenceman Shakir Mukhamadullin-unrestricted free agent from KHL in Russia-Stats: 27 GP, 0 G, 1 A
  1. Columbus Blue Jackets: Right-winger Yegor Chinakhov from Omsk 2 (Russia Jr.)-Stats: 56 GP, 27 G, 42 A
  1. Washington Capitals: Centre Hendrix Lapierre from Chicoutimi (QMJHL)-Stats: 19 GP, 2 G, 15 A
  1. Philadelphia Flyers: Right-winger Tyson Foerster from Barrie (OHL)-Stats: 62 GP, 36 G, 44 A
  1. Calgary Flames: Centre Connor Zary from Kamloops (WHL)-Stats: 57 GP, 38 G, 48 A
  1. Colorado Avalanche: Defenceman Justin Barron from Halifax (QMJHL)- Stats: 34 GP, 4 G, 15 A
  1. St. Louis Blues: Left-winger Jake Neighbours from Edmonton (WHL)-Stats: 64 GP, 23 G, 47 A
  1. Anaheim Ducks: Right-winger Jacob Perreault from Sarnia (OHL)-Stats: 57 GP, 39 G, 31 A
  1. Ottawa Senators: Centre Ridly Greig from Brandon (WHL)-Stats: 56 GP, 26 G, 34 A
  1. Vegas Golden Knights: Centre Brendan Brisson from Chicago (USHL)-Stats: 45 GP, 24 G, 35 A
  1. Dallas Stars: Centre Mavrik Bourque from Shawinigan (QMJHL)-Stats: 49 GP, 29 G, 42 A
  1. San Jose Sharks: Right-winger Ozzy Wiesblatt from Prince Albert (WHL)-Stats: 64 GP, 25 G, 45 A

There were also several NHL trades leading up to draft day as the Montreal Canadiens shipped Max Domi and a third-round draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for fellow forward Josh Anderson. In addition, the San Jose Sharks picked up veteran goaltender Devan Dubnyk and a seventh-round draft pick in 2022 from the Minnesota Wild for a fifth-round pick in 2022. The Sharks also acquired forward Ryan Donato from the Wild for a third-round pick in 2021.

The Los Angeles Kings got in on the action by acquiring defenceman Olli Maatta from the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Brad Morrison. The Ottawa Senators received blue liner Joshua Brown from the Florida Panthers for a fourth-round pick in 2020 and then signed him to a two-year deal worth a total of $2.4 million.

No asterisk needed beside Tampa’s Stanley Cup victory

Although some fans and hockey experts once suggested it, there doesn’t need to be an asterisk beside Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup triumph over the Dallas Stars in this Covid-19 delayed NHL season. After being swept in four games in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets a year earlier, Tampa took out the Dallas Stars in six games in this season’s Final, with a decisive 2-0 win on Sept. 28th.

Of course, this season was like no other as the Covid-19 pandemic halted the season in mid-March and it resumed about three-and-a-half-months later. All of the playoff-qualifying and postseason contests were then held in “bubbles” in Toronto and Edmonton with no fans in attendance. This didn’t affect the level of hockey played however as television viewers were treated to a hard-hitting, competitive and exciting postseason, just like usual.

For the Lightning, it was the franchise’s second Stanley Cup conquest with the first coming in 2003-04. They avenged last season’s loss against Columbus and ousted them by beating them if five games with four victories coming by a single goal. This included a 3-2 decision in an epic five-overtime game on Aug. 11 which ended at 10:27 and is currently the fourth-longest game in the history of the NHL.

Tampa then took care of the Boston Bruins as they eliminated this season’s Presidents’ Trophy winners in five outings to reach the Conference Final. Once there, they handled the New York Islanders in six contests before going on to defeat Dallas. Tampa managed to rebound from their playoff losses by going 6-0 this season following a defeat and they also went 6-2 in overtime and 11-3 in one-goal encounters.

Also, captain Steven Stamkos played just 2:47 of the entire playoffs when he scored on the second shift of his comeback in their game three victory against Dallas. He then returned to the infirmary and sat out the rest of the postseason due to injury. With Stamkos in the stands, the team’s top line consisted of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov.

The high-scoring trio lived up to expectations as  Kucherov led the league in playoff assists with 27 and points with 34. Point was tops in goals with 14 to set a new club record while adding 19 assists and Palat chipped in with 11 goals and seven helpers. In addition, defenceman Victor Hedman, who was named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs, contributed 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points and logged an enormous amount of ice time.

Hedman’s 10 goals in a postseason ranks third in NHL history and came after he tallied 11 in 68 outings in the regular season. The only blue liners to notch more goals in a playoff run were Hall of Famer’s Paul Coffey with 12 in 1984/85 and Brian Leetch with 11 in 1993/94. Hedman is the second Tampa player to take the Conn Smythe Trophy home as forward Brad Richards won it in 2003/04.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy more than pulled his weight as well as he started every one of the team’s 25 postseason games and won 18 of them. He posted a 1.90 goals-against average with a 92.7 save percentage and one shutout, which came in the Cup-winning contest.

The win was obviously sweet for the entire Tampa Bay Lightning franchise, their families, friends and fans but it was something special for forward Pat Maroon. He won the Stanley Cup last season with his hometown St. Louis Blues and then rolled the dice by signing as a free agent with the Lightning shortly after. Nobody is questioning Maroon’s decision now after winning his second-straight league championship.

Leon Draisaitl adds Hart and Ted Lindsay Awards to this year’s haul

The NHL handed out the rest of its annual awards on Sept. 21St, prior to the second game of the Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars. The big winner was centre Leon Draisaitl of the the Edmonton Oilers as he took home both the Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award.

The Hart Trophy goes to the player deemed the most valuable to his team as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) while the Ted Lindsay Award is basically awarded to the best player in the league as voted on by his peers in the NHL Players’ Association. The 24-year-old also won the Art Ross Trophy earlier as the league’s leading scorer this season with 110 points. He had the fourth-most goals in the league with 43 and led the NHL in assists with 67.

The other Hart and Lindsay finalists were forwards Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers. MacKinnon was the fifth-highest scorer in the league this season with 35 goals and 58 assists for 93 points while Panarin was tied with Pastrnak for third overall with 32 goals and 63 assists for 95 points. MacKinnon finished second in the Hart and Lindsay voting followed by Panarin.

Draisaitl becomes the fourth Oiler to win each of the awards  after Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Connor McDavid. Draisaitl also led the league in points-per-game at 1.55 and 44 power-play points. He co-shared the lead for 10 game-winning goals with David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins and placed second for his 66 even-strength points and 16 power-play goals.

Defenceman Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche was honoured with the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year to become the sixth franchise player to win it. The others were Peter Stastny and Peter Forsberg of the Quebec Nordiques as well as Chris Drury, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon with the Avalanche.

The 21-year-old Makar led all rookie blue liners in goals with 12 and power-play markers with four. His 38 assists and 50 points were good enough for second place. He tallied 19 power-play points, four game-winning goals, finished with a plus-12 rating and played an average of 21:01 of ice time each contest.

The voting was done by the PHWA with Vancouver Canucks’ rearguard Quinn Hughes placing second and Chicago Blackhawks’ forward Dominik Kubalik coming third. The 20-year-old Hughes led rookies with 45 assists, 53 points and 25 power-play points while the 25-year-old Kubalik led first-year players with 30 goals, 38 even-strength points and 26 even-strength goals.

The Norris Trophy winner as the best defenceman was awarded to captain Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators, making him the first player from the franchise to win it. Josi posted a career-best 16 goals, 49 assists and 65 points and ranked second in the NHL in each of those offensive categories. He also set club records for his assists and point total.

John Carlson of the Washington Capitals finished second in voting with Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning coming third. Carlson led all blue liners with a career-best 60 assists and 75 points as well as six-game-winners  while tallying 15 goals. Hedman notched 11 goals and 44 helpers for 55 points. This was also voted on by the PHWA.

The Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender went to Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets. He led the league with six shutouts and tied for games played at 58. He placed second in wins with 31, seventh in save percentage at 92.2, posted a goals-against average of 2.57 with a 31-21-5 record and faced the most shots in the NHL at 1,796 and made the most saves with 1,656. He’s now the first player in franchise history to win the award after placing second in voting in 2017-18.

Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins finished second on the ballots and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning placed third with the votes coming from the league’s 31 general managers. Rask went
26-8-6 this season and led the league with a (2.12 goals-against average and was second with a 92.9 save percentage and five shutouts. He won the Jennings Trophy earlier this season for allowing the fewest goals against. Last year’s Vezina winner, Vasilevskiy, led the league with 35 wins and posted a mark of 35-14-3 with a 2.56 goals-against average, three shutouts and 91.7 save percentage.

NHL begins handing out individual awards

With the 2019/20 NHL season being paused back in March due to Covid-19, the league’s annual awards show on the Las Vegas strip didn’t take place in June as it usually does. However, the top players haven’t been forgotten as the league began handing out its famous pieces of silverware in September.

Several winners were already known as soon as the league officially halted the campaign. The Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard trophy for leading the league in goals during the regular season was shared by Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins as they scored 48 times apiece.

Forward Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers took home the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in scoring with 110 points while Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak of the Boston Bruins won the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals against during the regular season.

The King Clancy Memorial Trophy is given to the player who exemplifies leadership on and off the ice as well as making a humanitarian contribution to the community. This award is decided on by a committee of senior league executives including deputy commissioner Bill Daly and commissioner Gary Bettman. Matt Dumba of the Minnesota Wild was this season’s winner with the other finalists being Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and P.K. Subban of the New Jersey Devils.

The finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy were Stephen Johns of the Dallas Stars, Oskar Lindblom of the Philadelphia Flyers and Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators with Ryan getting the nod. The trophy goes to the player who exemplifies sportsmanship, perseverance and dedication to the sport of hockey and is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. Ryan left his team in November of 2019 to enter the league’s player assistance program help battle alcohol abuse and returned to the Senators in late February.

The Jack Adams Award for the best coach during the regular season is voted on by the NHL’s Broadcasters’ Association with this year’s finalists being Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins, John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Alain Vigneault of the Philadelphia Flyers. Cassidy was named the winner with 37 first-place votes and being named on 82 of the 132 ballots. He helped the team win the Presidents’ Trophy this season as the top team during the regular season with 100 points from a record of 44-14-12 and a .714 points percentage.

The Bruins had a goal differential of 53, were ranked second on the power play at 25.2 percent and third in penalty-killing at 84.3 per cent. The team also allowed the fewest goals against at 174 in 70 games. Cassidy becomes the fourth Bruins’ coach to win the award after being named a finalist two times in the past three seasons. Other Boston coaches to take home the trophy have been Pat Burns, Claude Julien and Don Cherry. Vigneault raked in 32 first-place votes in the balloting this year while Tortorella received 28.

Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the league with the other finalists being Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues. The centre posted 22 goals and 37 assists for 59 points in 69 contests and won a league-high 59.6 per cent of his faceoffs. He was also the only player to win at least 58 per cent of his draws in each of the offensive, defensive and neutral zones. The voting was done by the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association with Couturier being named on 163 of the 170 voting slips with 117 of them being first-place ballots.

The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for combining gentlemanly conduct, a high level of play and sportsmanship was also voted on by the Writers’ Association and was contested by Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The award went to MacKinnon, who led Colorado in scoring with 35 goals and 58 assists for 93 points in 69 games while receiving just 12 minutes in penalties.

Meanwhile, the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award is voted on  by a panel of media members, general managers and NHL executives. This year’s finalists were Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars, Julien BriseBois of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders with Lamoriello being named the winner. In addition, Calgary Flames’ defenceman and team captain Mark Giordano was named the winner of the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award for exemplifying excellent leadership qualities on and off the ice.

The NHL also announced that the winners of the Calder Memorial Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy,
James Norris Memorial Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award, and the Vezina Trophy will all be revealed during the Stanley Cup Final series.

NHL playoffs down to final four

The NHL’s final four teams will all be based out of Edmonton, Alberta from now until the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs after the quarterfinals were all completed on Labour Day weekend. The New York Islanders shut out the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 in game seven of their series on Saturday night after the Dallas Stars edged the Colorado Avalanche 5-4 in overtime and the Vegas Golden Knights blanked the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 in their respective game sevens on Friday.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had already taken care of the Boston Bruins in five games earlier in the week. The Eastern Conference clubs, which played the qualifying series and first two rounds of the postseason in Toronto since July 27th, now head west to compete at Rogers Place in Edmonton. The Western Conference Final features Vegas vs Dallas while the Eastern Final pits Tampa against the Islanders.

When it comes to the starting goalies, it appears Robin Lehner will get the nod over Marc-Andre Fleury for Vegas while Anton Khudobin will start for Dallas. Khudobin has taken over in net for the Stars as Ben Bishop has been Ben Bishop listed as unfit to play for the team in 10 of the last 11 games. Bishop started the fifth game of the series against Colorado but  was pulled after conceding four goals on 19 shots before 14 minutes had elapsed in the contest. Bishop was then listed as unfit to play for the final two encounters of the series.

So far, Khudobin has compiled an 8-5 record in the playoffs with a 90.9 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.94. It’s still unknown if Bishop will be healthy enough to play against Vegas but if he is, fans may see head coach Rick Bowness start him again since he’s still considered to be the team’s number one netminder.

One of the hottest players entering the semi-finals is blue liner Miro Heiskanen of Dallas as he’s riding an eight-game scoring streak of two goals and 10 assists to set a franchise playoff record for a defenceman. Heiskanen has racked up five goals and 16 helpers for 21 points in 16 postseason outings so far. Just seven rearguards have managed to reach 20 points in fewer playoff contests in NHL history with these being Paul Coffey, Bobby Orr, Brian Leetch, Ray Bourque, Al MacInnis,Denis Potvin and Larry Robinson. All seven are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In Vegas, Lehner has taken over as the top goalie from Fleury but Fleury has played a few games in the playoffs this season. Lehner’s record so far stands at 8-4 with a 91.8 save percentage with a 1.99 goals -against average and three shutouts while Fleury has gone 3-0 with an 89.3 save percentage to accompany his 2.67 goals-against average.

Both Dallas and Vegas replaced their head coaches during the season with Rick Bowness taking over the Stars on Dec. 10th when Jim Montgomery was let go and Peter DeBoer getting the job in Vegas on Jan. 15th to take over from the fired Gerard Gallant. Bowness coached in a conference final 28 years ago when he was behind the bench with Boston while this is DeBoer’s third conference final after guiding the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 and the San Jose Sharks in 2016 with both teams losing in six outings.

In the East, Tampa’s win over Boston came early enough to give the team an extra five days of rest. This could turn out to be beneficial or it may be too long of a layoff. However, in Tampa’s case the rest may have done more good than harm since the club played a total of nine overtime periods in the first two series for a total of 134:29 extra minutes. They technically eliminated the Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets in 10 games but in reality played the equivalent of 12 games.

On the injury front, Tampa winger Nikita Kucherov should be ready to play after being injured in the fifth game against Boston and center Steven Stamkos may make his first appearance of the playoffs against the Islanders.

For the Islanders, this is the first time since 1993 they have reached a conference final and they haven’t been to the Stanley Cup Final since 1984. The team has used both Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov in net this postseason with Greiss starting just twice and posting a shutout. Varlamov has started the other 14 encounters with a 9-4 record, a 92.1 save percentage, a 2.00 goals-against average and two shutouts.

Nathan MacKinnon proving his worth in NHL playoffs

Sitting on top of the NHL’s playoff scoring parade on the last day of August was centre Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche with seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points in 12 games. What made the numbers even more impressive was the fact MacKinnon’s consistency has shone through as he had recorded at least one point in all 12 games.

He’s also set and tied some Avalanche club records along the way in the postseason such as three points in a period, four points in a series-winning game and most consecutive games with a point from the start of a playoff season. The 24-year-old has now appeared in 37 career NHL games and has produced 18 goals and 32 assists for 50 points with a plus-22 rating and five game-winners. His 12-game point streak to start this postseason eclipsed the old team mark of 10 set by Joe Sakic in 1995/96.

He’s been producing in the postseason all through his career though as MacKinnon racked up 61 points in 34 games as a junior with the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and added seven goals and 13 points in four Memorial Cup contests. This isn’t to say he doesn’t chip in during the regular season because he certainly does.

In 525 career games he stands at 190 goals and 305 assists for 495 points. He also has a plus-39 rating, 56 power-play markers and 39 game-winners. In the last three seasons, MacKinnon’s points totals were 97, 99 and 93 for 289 in 225 outings. His 99 points this season resulted in being named as a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the player deemed most valuable to his team.

The Avalanche chose MacKinnon first overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and was named the league’s rookie of the year for 2013/14 when he notched 29 goals and 63 points in 82 games with a plus-20 rating. He was the youngest player ever in franchise history to step on the ice in an NHL contest and earned a pair of assists in his debut.

And since he hails from Springhill, Nova Scotia, which is close to Cole Harbour where Sidney Crosby was born there has always been comparisons with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ star. With MacKinnon growing up and playing minor hockey in the Cole Harbour community he’s a friend of Crosby’s and also lists him as his mentor.

MacKinnon is used to winning, be it the QMJHL title, Memorial Cup, or World Championships, but for all of his heroics, the Avalanche are unlikely to get past the Dallas Stars in the second round of this year’s playoffs as they trailed 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. MacKinnon has certainly been doing his job, but the team’s secondary scoring has dried up since downing the Arizona Coyotes in five games in the first round.

On the bright side, if the Avalanche is eliminated this round MacKinnon has an interesting hobby to fall back on during his down time as he’s been dabbling in acting. He’s appeared several times in the past on the Canadian comedy shows “Mr. D” and “Trailer Park Boys” and has filmed a series of commercials with his buddy Crosby for Tim Hortons restaurants.

But if MacKinnon’s teammates can lift their game to his level, they’ll be able to come back against Dallas and continue their 2019/20 postseason journey.