Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

Wednesday Hockey Thoughts

(4/21/2021)

from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, - Injuries aren’t just a factor for teams, they are also affecting the officials. Three linesmen who retired last season (Scott Driscoll, Darren Gibbs, Brian Murphy) were not replaced. Four others — Derek Amell, Greg Devorski, Brian Mach and Steve Miller — have been out most of the year. As a result, the NHL’s needed to use minor-league referees as linesmen on a few occasions. The league is also down two referees: Tim Peel (suspended) and Chris Rooney (injured). This doesn’t include short-term injuries, which pop up from time to time. It’s been a struggle. - Get well soon, Carey Price. The Canadiens’ netminder was injured Monday night in the first period of their 4–1 loss to Edmonton and will miss at least a week in concussion protocol. Cayden Primeau is up on an emergency basis, and could face Calgary this week. The secondary concern is the roster headaches this creates for Montreal. If they activate Cole Caufield, it will be their last available post-deadline recall. (You get four, and the previous were used up by Paul Byron, Xavier Ouellet and Alexander Romanov.) Adding Caufield would put someone on the taxi squad (Byron?) who cannot be recalled. It’s an extremely delicate dance, and I wouldn’t want to depend knowing only an injury could make someone like Byron eligible again. -. Spencer Knight made his NHL debut Tuesday night, as the Panthers beat Columbus 5-1. He might have played sooner, but had to get his equipment modified to NHL standards. His chest protector, pads and pants all had to adjusted. (It’s possible he wears one of Sergei Bobrovsky’s old chest protectors.) - Chris Johnston reported last week that the NHL sent a note to all teams warning of increased scrutiny on long-term injury usage, specifically when it came to cap manipulation. I don’t get riled up about this issue, since I try to manipulate the rules of every pool I’m in. But it drives some teams absolutely crazy. more Thoughts

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

The Second Best Team In New York Is Striving To Be Better

(4/21/2021)

from Neil Best of Newsday, In case it was not evident before Tuesday night, the Islanders reminded everyone that they are the best hockey team in New York State, routing the Rangers, 6-1, at Nassau Coliseum. Up next, three games against the Capitals, with whom they are tied for first place in the East Division. Fun? Sure. But even in a 56-game sprint, this regular-season story is starting to get a little stale. Just wake us in mid-May, will ya, guys? In the meantime, let us say a few words before it is too late about another interesting New York hockey team, one built for the near future more than the present. Will the Rangers catch the Bruins for a playoff spot? That is increasingly unlikely. Tuesday’s loss, combined with surging Boston’s 2-0 victory over the Sabres, left the Rangers six points out with 10 games to play, two fewer than the Bruins have left. It was a cold, hard slap in the face after four consecutive victories over the Devils’ JV squad. Humbling? "Yeah, sure," Brendan Smith said. "They’re a good squad. They’re playoff-ready, and we got a little taste of that, for sure." Said coach David Quinn, "When you lose 6-1 in the fashion we did, it certainly is humbling, that’s for sure." The good, big-picture news for the Rangers is that making the playoffs is of secondary concern. Competing for them is the point, as the young Blueshirts try to deliver on the organization’s famed "we’re rebuilding" letter of Feb. 8, 2018. continued

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

Stars Of The Week

(4/19/2021)

NEW YORK (April 19, 2021) – Buffalo Sabres goaltender Dustin Tokarski and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center RN Michaela Pastorius have been named the NHL’s “First Stars” for the week ending April 18. Throughout the 2020-21 season the NHL is celebrating the remarkable efforts of the off-ice stars who make it possible for us to play our games amid a pandemic by honoring frontline healthcare heroes from the regions represented by the League’s weekly and monthly “Stars.” Pastorius works as a nurse at Buffalo’s Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, where just a few years ago she was walking the same halls as a patient battling a cancer diagnosis. Pastorius put nursing school on hold while going through treatment, but vowed to finish her degree and now works alongside the nurses who once cared for her as a patient. The inpatient unit at Roswell Park where Pastorius works – known as 6West – is typically for cancer patients with solid tumors, but has become a designated COVID-19 space over the past year. Pastorius understands what these patients are going through and brings a positive attitude to the floor despite the incredibly challenging and emotional experience of the pandemic on both patients and staff.  "When I was going through inpatient chemotherapy at Roswell Park, the Buffalo Sabres gave me motivation to continue fighting,” Pastorius says. “The amount of support the Sabres show for Roswell and its patients felt personal to me since I am such a big fan . . . The appreciation I had and still have for their support is bottomless.” Rounding out the “Three Stars” of the week are New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin and Vegas Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone. More on each NHL player’s performance can be found below:

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

Bob McKenzie’s Mid-Season Draft Rankings

(4/19/2021)

from Bob McKenzie of TSN, The TSN Mid-Season 2021 NHL Draft Rankings have become a Power Ranking. As in, Owen Power. It’s unanimous - 10 out of 10 NHL scouts surveyed by TSN have the 6-foot-5 1/2 University of Michigan freshman defenceman at No. 1. The Mississauga, Ont., native has solidified and enhanced his No. 1 standing from last fall’s preseason rankings, when only four of those same 10 scouts had him ranked first overall. That said, it should be noted that Power’s No. 1 status on draft day is not an absolute lock. His mantle is not unassailable. Most of the scouts who ranked him first do allow for the possibility he could still be challenged for top spot and a name other than Power could be called out on July 23. He is, however, the consensus favourite. “I don’t know what percentage number you would want to put on it,” said one scout, “60, 70 per cent? I’m not sure. It’s certainly more than 50 per cent, but this is not a draft where there’s one dominant prospect who is the unquestioned No. 1 choice. I mean, it’s close enough between Power and the other top guys that you couldn’t rule out someone else. There are some defencemen who could still challenge him and if the team picking first overall this year really wants or needs a forward, well, there are a couple of forwards who could still be [viable options at] No. 1.” It’s a draft year like no other. continued, with 100 names on the list...

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

Up Or Down Time

(4/19/2021)

from Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, Stock up Michael Rasmussen Rasmussen had a goal and two assists last week, tallying his second multipoint game of the season when he contributed two assists April 12 at the Hurricanes. (His first was Jan. 28 against the Stars). Rasmussen, a first-round pick in 2017, is noticeable every game for how he uses his big body to protect the puck, or drive to the net for a scoring opportunity. He led his team with six shots on net Saturday and nearly scored. He’s playing with so much confidence, and the improvement from even the start of the season is remarkable. Jakub Vrana What a debut for the trade-deadline acquisition: Out of the penalty box and straight up the ice for the winning goal. Vrana looks like he can be a good fit — he has won puck battles, and gone to hard areas. As his comfort level with new teammates grows, and as he finds chemistry on a new line, Vrana could be a bright spot over the final 10 games. Stock down Dennis Cholowski The first time the 2016 first-round pick was called up this season, he appeared in two games before being sent back down. He has been up again since April 10, with steadily growing minutes — and no points. Saturday, he played 21:19, and 5:14 of that was power-play time. That’s the area where Cholowski, 23, needs to make an impact if he’s to gain traction. He’s an NHL-caliber skater, but needs to be more assertive with the puck. more ($$$), no other players in the down section, also in the up are Stecher and DeKeyser.

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

Hockey Notes On A Great Spring Sunday Morning In Motown

(4/18/2021)

from Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun, - On Saturday night, Patrick Marleau tied Howe by playing in his 1,767th game. (Marcel) Dionne is more impressed with Ovechkin than he is with Marleau, who on Monday, barring an injury, will pass Howe. “What is he scoring now, a goal or two a year? I’m not that impressed with that. I give him credit for playing that long. Just not how he’s doing it.” Marleau, for the record, has four goals this season. - So if J.T. Miller doesn’t say anything, would the Vancouver Canucks have been playing on Saturday night? Would the NHL have turned its back on its players’ health and safety? Would the NHL Players’ Association have protected its membership? Would Canucks management and ownership have stepped in? Odds are the games would have gone on as scheduled without the Miller interview and to hell with the health of those putting their lives on the line. - The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo, and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL. - Didn’t understand all the praise for GM Steve Yzerman for getting a first-round pick and more for Anthony Mantha. Mantha has a big shot to go along with big shooters like Ovechkin, John Carlson, Nikita Kuznetsov in Washington. The Capitals get a player now. The Red Wings get a player and a draft pick, who might be a player by 2024. Mantha can be a playoff series difference-maker now for Washington. more

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

19 Detroit Thoughts

(4/18/2021)

from Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, With a nod to his number he wore, now raised to the rafters in Little Caesars Arena, here are 19 thoughts on what Yzerman has accomplished since April 19, 2019. - Trading Anthony Mantha was not an indictment on the state of the rebuild, it was an indictment on Mantha. Yzerman said early on he wanted to observe the team he took over from his predecessor, Ken Holland. Yzerman saw in Mantha what others in the organization had seen for longer: That the nights he was unnoticeable outnumbered the ones where Mantha dominated. Anyone who remembers Yzerman knows how competitive he was as a player — he played on one knee, basically, at the end of his career, and still gave it his all. Yzerman had had enough, and that’s what led to the trade. - Since Yzerman took over, 14 NHL regulars are no longer part of the roster. In addition to shedding Mantha, Athanasiou and Abdelkader, Yzerman opted not to re-sign Jimmy Howard, Thomas Vanek, Luke Witkowski, Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson. He did not issue a qualifying offer to Martin Frk, Madison Bowey and Christoffer Ehn, and also traded Mike Green and Jacob de la Rose. Niklas Kronwall retired. - Even with holding on to Bernier, Staal, and Luke Glendening, all pending unrestricted free agents, Yzerman carries 12 picks into the 2021 draft, including five in the first two rounds. That potentially could speed up the rebuild. - One of the most important prospects is Moritz Seider, the defenseman Yzerman drafted sixth overall in 2019. Loaning Seider to Rögle in the Swedish Hockey League meant a season-long commitment — other European leagues allowed players to be recalled once hockey started up in North America — and it has worked wonderfully. The 20-year-old has flourished, tallying seven goals and 21 assists in 41 games, and is in position to win a championship. He’s poised to join the Wings’ lineup next season. more (paid subscription)

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

The Vancouver Canucks Prepare To Play Again

(4/18/2021)

from Iain MacIntyre of Sportsnet, Given two more days to prepare for the worst month of their hockey careers, the Vancouver Canucks will have a full lineup when they end an unprecedented 24-day layoff Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They don’t know who will be coaching (bench boss Travis Green was among the hardest hit by the organization’s COVID-19 outbreak) or who will be playing (except injured star Elias Pettersson won’t), but at least the Canucks will have a team. They wouldn’t have had one Friday had the NHL not revised Vancouver’s schedule a second time and pushed back its re-entry into the stretch drive for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With 19 games in 32 days, the Canucks may well finish a regular season that has been officially declared a disaster while the top four teams in the Canadian division are playing playoff games. After a year in which the NHL thought it had seen everything, it turned out nobody had seen anything like the Canucks’ COVID-19 outbreak, which was made exceptional – and especially dangerous – because it was driven by the aggressive P.1 variant. None of the league’s earlier outbreaks, including those similar in scope and duration to the Canucks’ crisis, were caused by any of the coronavirus variants that have built a gigantic third wave in Canada. A Canucks’ official described it this week like this: 10 days into the NHL’s earlier major outbreaks, nearly all the players involved had recovered enough to resume training; 10 days into the P.1 variant outbreak in Vancouver, not only were a lot of players still sick but a few were actually getting worse. continued

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

It’s All About The Playoffs For The Core Of The Toronto Maple Leafs

(4/18/2021)

from Damien Cox at the Toronto Star, So the Leafs are really pretty much the same team they were before the deadline, perhaps slightly improved, with the same strengths and same weaknesses. No. 1 on the list of those weaknesses is the uncertain situation in net, and while four different masked men have now earned points for Toronto this season, we all are pretty familiar with the NHL’s rule that you can only play one at a time. Currently, that looms as a prickly problem for Keefe. He’s got lots of goalies hailing from lots of different places, and he just needs one of them to play well enough to get the club past the first round of the playoffs. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? The fate of this team in this bizarro season rests on Keefe identifying a goalie, and on whether Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Zach Hyman and perhaps one or two others have the ability to play much better in the playoffs this spring than they did in last summer’s bubble playoffs. Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza are nice stories and occasional contributors, as is Wayne Simmonds. But the big money boys have got to come through. For 44 games, this team has performed very well. If it can hang on to first place, sometime next month it will likely face Montreal in the playoffs. That could be loads of fun and the stars will need to come out. Dubas has so far declined to touch the core of this team, believing it will mature and eventually perform at a level that might get the Leafs to within striking distance of the Cup. Soon, we will see if he was right. Or, more accurately, whether he was right within the context of a season like no other. more

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

The Mantha-Vrana Deal

(4/18/2021)

from Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe, Up until the Red Wings and Capitals stunned the trading floor on Monday, the best deadline deal belonged to the Islanders, who jumped out ahead by five days and added dependable ex-Devils Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to a strong group of forwards. But then, just as the dealin’ was nearly done, the Capitals filched the single-best talent that few knew to be available, acquiring 6-foot-5-inch right winger Anthony Mantha from the Red Wings. “Wow!” said one front office executive, praising Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman for the deal.... The Capitals, always enamored by size and skill (why not?), surrendered slick Czech forward Jakub Vrana and Slovak right winger Richard Panik, whom Yzerman drafted for the Lightning in his Tampa GM days. They sweetened the package even further with first-round (2021) and second-round (2022) picks. Sweet haul, no doubt. But the best player in the deal is Mantha, who pitched in with 1-1—2 in his Capitals debut Tuesday night. Few in the league have the new age Big M’s size and skill, which the Red Wings no doubt viewed to be true in November when they extended his deal for four years at a $5.7 million cap hit. Five months later, what, he’s trade bait? The asterisk on Mantha, age 26, is his erratic consistency and motivation. He can appear maddeningly disengaged, even now seven years into his pro career. In part, that label was why, even with his size, he lasted until No. 20 in the 2013 draft (three picks after the Senators grabbed Curtis Lazar, don’t ya know?). Vrana, 25, will be a restricted free agent in the summer, and the Capitals were concerned he might earn Mantha kind of money via salary arbitration. Now that’s Yzerman’s worry. Stevie Y is hoping Vrana (career-high 25 goals, 52 points) might find Detroit a comfortable fit with fellow Czechs Filip Hronek (D) and Filip ZadinaRW). If he’s right, that might bring some added value to the deal. Detroit is a hard sell these days. The deal is somewhat reminiscent of the Bruins abruptly dishing Joe Thornton to the Sharks 23 games into the 2005-06 season, when no one knew the former No. 1 pick (1997) was being shopped... more and other topics too...

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

A Bad Look

(4/18/2021)

from Larry Brooks of the New York Post, The NHL and NHLPA have handled the unprecedented challenges posed over the past 13 months admirably, balancing the well-being of the industry with the safety of those under their charge. But sending the Canucks back to work after the most serious outbreak of COVID-19 encountered by any NHL team so they can dutifully play out the string of a season gone horribly wrong seems a story that belongs under one of those generic headlines we’ve read all too often: “CORPORATION ORDERS EMPLOYEES BACK TO WORK” Please do not talk to me about the integrity of the schedule or the integrity of the playoff race in the Canadian division. Neither exists under these conditions. The five teams that have a sum of 19 games remaining against Vancouver will in essence be picking at the carcass of a club whose players, staff members and respective families have been struck, and struck hard, by the P1 variant of the virus. Playing these games — when they start Sunday night, the Canucks will be scheduled to play 19 games in 32 days, an insane burden even if placed on the healthiest and best conditioned of teams — will add mockery to the playoff race, not justify it.... continued plus more topics including... So I hear or read about the Blue Jackets’ upcoming decision whether to “rebuild or reload,” and wonder if we are taking about the same Blue Jackets who have won one playoff round in their history. That one triumph came two years ago while they still had all the guys who left town as soon as they could.

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

Ranking The Top Prospects

(4/16/2021)

Chris Peters of HockeySense does a great job with prospects.  His site is subscription only but this time of year is well worth it.  Consider a subscription if you can. 1. Owen Power, D, Michigan (Big Ten) With his season over, there isn’t a ton more Power can do to solidify his case to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, but he’s done enough this season to earn the pole position at this point. As has been the case throughout the season, the race for No. 1 remains tight with opinions widespread on who it should be. To me, the player with the most translatable skills to NHL impact and potential stardom remains Power. His maturity is already beyond his years and he’s taken the right approach to his development, excelling at each step without rushing the process.... 2. Matty Beniers, C, Michigan (Big Ten) Beniers does the things every team needs in a center to win games. He’s got the skill and speed to pressure teams offensively, but then he’s able to be among the best defensive centers you can throw over the boards. His work ethic on and off the puck is unrivaled in this class, which makes him both difficult to play against and a coach’s dream. He has that natural toughness that doesn’t manifest itself in big hits or over-aggressiveness, rather he’s going all out in the corners, at the net front, with one goal in mind – the puck belongs to him and it’s going to be a fight for you to try and keep it.... 3. Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) My, oh my, what a start for Guenther since the WHL returned. He’d been among the top scorers in the league since the puck dropped and never really looked back before leaving for Canada’s U18 camp. We should take some of the numbers with a small grain of salt just because of the way the WHL schedule is set up this season. When you remove the grueling travel and almost 40 games from the schedule, it does make for a better chance at more sustainable production in a smaller, more controlled sample. Even without that, though, you just need to look at Guenther’s skill set to see why he is among the exceptional in this draft class and averaged a WHL-best two-points per game before departing. more on each of the above plus 42 more names...

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

The Kraken Coach

(4/16/2021)

from Stan Fischler of The Fishler Report, Who cares that the soon-to-be 32d NHL team hasn't played a game yet; the Kraken's future is as bright as searchlights on the city's Space Needle.  Enthused fans have shown their dedication by flooding the Kraken combine with ticket info and requests. Meanwhile, the Seattle savants would love some news about their pre-natal franchise. One question that will grow in heat during the next month comes down to who the estimable Ron Francis chooses as head coach. A few of the marquee names have a certain glow about them. A couple even wear Stanley Cup rings. Try these on for size and see if you like them: MIKE BABCOCK: He's a proven winner -- despite what the Toronto media says -- and still has the glow, although it's fading fast.  CLAUDE JULIEN: The French-Canadian maestro won a Cup in Boston and got the best out of a mostly  mediocre Montreal market. Claude is lower key than Babcock but just as savvy. JOHN TOTORELLA: Another Cup-winner, Torts does well in his first year and that's vital with this new franchise. He'll get attention by intimidating the media, benching stars and wearing his emotion on his spectacles. BRUCE BOUDREAU: Cousin Brucie would be the Don Cherry of the Northwest in the best possible way. His players, the press, the fans -- everybody -- will love this guy. His resume is lengthy and impeccable; MY CHOICE: Cousin Brucie because I like smart coaches who are as funny as they are smart.  more hockey topics...

Paul Kukla (Kukla's Korner)

On The Road For The Canadian Division Later In The Playoffs

(4/16/2021)

from Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, A little update on a story I first reported on in early March regarding what happens with the Canadian division winner once we’re down to the NHL semifinals. As I wrote on March 5, the idea of the Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, playing past the second round of the playoffs in nearby Buffalo remains on the table. And given where the COVID-19 numbers are these days in my country, it’s looking less like fantasy and at least like a realistic possibility that this happens. The new wrinkle now is that the NHL will want to put the Canadian division playoff winner in a U.S. NHL facility closer to its semifinal opponent. So sure, if the Leafs happen to come out of the Canadian division and match up with the New York Islanders, then yes Buffalo would still make sense for the Leafs in that case. But if it’s Toronto-Vegas in the final four, then maybe Arizona or L.A. would make more sense for the Leafs? Or if it’s Colorado-Toronto, would Chicago make sense for the Leafs as a home base? Again, whether it’s Edmonton, Winnipeg or Montreal (or Calgary!) coming out of the Canadian division, the league will have a plan in place. Here’s another wrinkle to consider: I’m told whichever U.S. adoptive city the league would potentially choose for the Canadian division winner, it’s most likely that’s their home for the remainder of the playoffs. They wouldn’t move the Canadian team around to another locale if it reached the Stanley Cup Final no matter what the championship matchup is. continued (paid)