MacKinnon clears COVID protocols, could play for Avs at Caps

WASHINGTON — Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon has cleared NHL coronavirus protocols and could make his season debut Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals.

MacKinnon tested positive for the coronavirus last week and had been in the league’s COVID-19 protocols since Oct. 12. The three-time MVP finalist did not travel with the team Monday because he did not have the requisite number of negative coronavirus tests to be considered available.

Coach Jared Bednar said on his weekly radio show on Denver’s 92.5-FM that MacKinnon flew by himself Monday night. Under rules agreed to by the league and the players’ association, MacKinnon needed to test negative twice to be cleared to play.

MacKinnon, 26, missed Colorado’s first two games of the season. Because he is vaccinated, the 26-year-old’s absence was considered a hockey-related injury and he was paid during his time away.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said on opening night last week that the NHL had only four unvaccinated players out of roughly 700 on active rosters. He acknowledged the pandemic will still play a factor this season, such as vaccinated players missing games, and stressed the need for vigilance across the league’s 32 teams.

Avs’ MacKinnon clears COVID-19 protocol, set to play at Caps

WASHINGTON (AP) — Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon has cleared NHL coronavirus protocols is set to make his season debut Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals.

MacKinnon tested positive for the coronavirus last week and had been in the league’s COVID-19 protocols since Oct. 12. The three-time MVP finalist needed to test negative twice to be cleared to rejoin the team and flew by himself to get to the East Coast for the start of the Avalanche’s road trip.

Coach Jared Bednar confirmed after his team’s morning skate that MacKinnon would be in the lineup.

“I’m pumped to play,” MacKinnon said. “I didn’t think I’d even get two negatives. I thought I’d have to wait the 10 days and miss the first two games of the road trip and probably the third one, too.”

Instead, MacKinnon is expected to center Colorado’s first line between fellow All-Star Mikko Rantanen and former Capitals winger Andre Burakovsky. Captain Gabriel Landeskog is serving the second and final game of his suspension for boarding, so MacKinnon’s return is welcome for the Avalanche.

“I would say it’s a pleasant surprise because I wasn’t expecting him (to play) tonight,” Bednar said. “He would have needed the two tests that were still out, and both of them would have had to have been negative. It just so happens they both were, so here he is.”

MacKinnon missed Colorado’s first two games of the season. Because he is vaccinated, the 26-year-old’s absence was considered a hockey-related injury and he was paid during his time away.

“I didn’t feel anything,” MacKinnon said. “I was good. I was working out the whole time at home, doing what I can to stay in shape. It’s just unfortunate. I didn’t infect anybody in my family. Nobody got sick, no teammates got sick, so that’s lucky, I guess.”

Colorado defenseman Jack Johnson is also back after missing the previous game after testing positive. Johnson got his second negative test back Monday in time to fly with the team.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said on opening night last week that the NHL had only four unvaccinated players out of roughly 700 on active rosters. He acknowledged the pandemic will still play a factor this season, such as vaccinated players missing games, and stressed the need for vigilance across the league’s 32 teams.

Blues’ Buchnevich to have hearing for head-butting Lawson Crouse

Pavel Buchnevich of the Blues will have a NHL Department of Player Safety hearing following his match penalty during St. Louis’ 7-4 win over the Coyotes on Monday.

With the score tied late in first period Buchnevich and Arizona forward Lawson Crouse exchanged shoves then began to jaw at one another. The Blues forward then head-butted Crouse and was promptly kicked out of the game.

The NHL rulebook describes head-butting as: “The act of head-butting involves a player making intentional contact with, or attempting to make contact with, an opponent by leading with his head and/or helmet.”

Crouse, who was given a cross-checking minor, was not happy with a high hit Buchnevich delivered moments earlier on Andrew Ladd.

Buchnevich, who sat for one game last May for cross-checking Anthony Mantha, was automatically suspended pending a review due to the match penalty.

Flames defenseman Rasmus Andersson was fined $5,000 for “roughing” as he tried to head-butt Kailer Yamamoto during Saturday’s Oilers win over the Flames.

The Blues play next on Wednesday night in Las Vegas before heading home to host the Kings on Saturday.

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

NHL Rink Wrap: Matthews’ return spoiled by Shesterkin, Rangers

Top player from Monday in the NHL

Igor Shesterkin, Rangers

The New York netminder stood on his head during Monday’s 2-1 overtime win against the Maple Leafs. Shesterkin stopped 40 of 41 shots he faced in the victory. He now has seven career wins when making at least 40 saves since his NHL debut in 2019-20, the most among all goaltenders over that span.

Highlights from Monday in the NHL

Can we form the Maple Leafs – Rangers overtime in some sort of burger-like patty so I can ingest it? Maybe break it down to a soup to make it last longer? Anyway, thrilling stuff, and Auston Matthews was left muttering. (More on that soon.)

Stupendous save by Carter Hart, and one that will likely haunt Jordan Eberle‘s dreams.

The Blues topped the Coyotes 7-4, which was boosted by a five-goal run in a 5:07 in the second period:

Could Pavel Buchnevich get suspended early in his first season with the Blues?

Two Takeaways from Monday in the NHL

Matthews was ready … but so was Shesterkin

Is Auston Matthews 100%? If not, opponents better look out.

During Matthews’ NHL season debut on Monday, the American forward fired a whopping eight shots on goal. Matthews and his line absolutely tilted the ice, but Igor Shesterkin stood on his head.

After giving up three goals in his first appearance of 2021-22, Shesterkin started to heat up by stopping 31 out of 32 shots vs. the Canadiens. Remarkably, the still-relatively-unproven netminder was even more brilliant against Matthews and the Leafs.

Matthews created a bunch of chances during that exciting OT above, but Artemi Panarin scored the game-winner.

Flyers get some revenge on Hakstol

Publicly, Flyers players will probably deflect any talk of getting “revenge” on former coach Dave Hakstol. And, who knows? Privately, they might not care that much, either.

So, call it a coincidence if you’d like. But either way, Hakstol’s former team (the Flyers) sure opened a can on Hakstol’s current team (the Kraken) as one of the most noteworthy developments of Monday in the NHL.

Via Natural Stat Trick, the Flyers generated a 16-7 scoring chance advantage at even-strength during the first period alone. The Flyers also produced a 3-0 lead in the first period, then growing it to 5-1 by the second.

Maybe Derick Brassard can find a second life reunited with Alain Vigneault? The journeyman forward generated three points (1G, 2A) in the Flyers’ blowout of the Kraken.

(By the way, this wasn’t just a case of the Flyers’ power play overpowering the Kraken. None of Philly’s goals came on the man advantage.)

Tuesday’s big story

Florida feud forming?

With Nikita Kucherov‘s health once again unknown, the brewing Battle of Florida might lose a bit of luster.

Even so, there’s growing evidence that the Panthers and Lightning could create a nice little Florida feud. Both teams moved to an alternate Central Division last season, setting the stage for an intriguing (and hate-filled) playoff series. There were suspensions, goalie changes, and so, so many goals.

Now, a Game 7 would’ve given that series (and the Lightning – Panthers rivalry) an extra boost. Nonetheless, the Panthers and Lightning planted seeds of budding disdain.

With the Panthers (2-0-0) and Lightning (2-1-0) both off to pretty good starts, we should get a glance at what could become a great, long-awaited in-state rivalry.

Monday’s NHL scores

Rangers 2, Maple Leafs 1 (OT)
Flyers 6, Kraken 1
Ducks 3, Flames 2 (OT)
Blues 7, Coyotes 4

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Looking at the Chicago Blackhawks’ lousy start

The Chicago Blackhawks’ fall from grace has been swift and brutal over the past four years both off the ice (the lawsuits they are facing and who knew what, and when they knew it, and what they did about it) and on the ice (the lousy team).

This offseason they attempted to throw a bunch of money at their problems, seemingly abandoning their initial rebuild plans in the process, by acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights, giving Seth Jones a bank vault full of money, and acquiring Tyler Johnson from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Add all of that to the return of Jonathan Toews after he sat out the entire 2020-21 season and there was an expectation that the team could at least be more competitive than it had been.

They have not won a single playoff series since their Stanley Cup victory in 2015, while their only playoff appearance in the previous four seasons was the 2019-20 Return To Play bubble appearance when they snuck in as the league’s 23rd ranked team. In a normal year, in a normal playoff, they would have never sniffed the playoffs that season.

Maybe when this season is all said and done they will be more competitive. Maybe even grab a legitimate playoff spot if some things go their way. It is a long year and a lot can happen over the next 79 games. But the early returns are less than ideal, and quite frankly, more of the same from what we have seen from this team the past couple of seasons.

Right now it is a pretty lousy start. In more ways than one. Not only did the Blackhawks lose their first three games of the season, but they have continued their concerning habit of seemingly not being ready to play at the start of games.

In each of their first three losses they have found themselves in early deficits that they have never been able to dig out of. How bad has it been? At the 10-minute mark of their first three games they have already faced deficits of 3-0, 1-0, and 3-0. In the latter game, Saturday’s 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh, they allowed a fourth goal in the 12th minute. All of this while head coach Jeremy Colliton keeps talking about placing an emphasis on getting off to better starts.

The past two games have seen them give up goals within the first 20 seconds of games. Going back to last season they have faced a deficit within the first 10 minutes in seven of their past 12 games. In four of those games it has been a multi-goal deficit. Spotting teams an early lead — or a multiple goal lead — is not really an ideal to win games.

The problem for Chicago this offseason is that the changes were only a band-aid on a team that has a lot of weak spots and problems, while those band-aids also came with their own question marks.

Let’s start with Jones and his eight-year contract with the $9.5 million salary cap hit. Jones’ name still carries a lot of clout around the league because he was an outstanding player for a lot of years in Nashville and Columbus. Statistically speaking his play regressed dramatically the past two seasons, and there were at least a few red flags for what that meant going forward. Through the admittedly small sample size of the first week of the season the on-ice results for Jones and the Blackhawks have been dreadful, and the eye-test has not been any kinder.

Chicago is getting pummeled when Jones’ pairing is on the ice from a shot and scoring chance perspective, while it has been outscored 4-0 during 5-on-5 play. Ideally you want to be patient here because, again, it is three games. But given the trajectory of Jones’ career the past two years it is at least a little bit alarming to see that bad of a start.

Then there is Fleury, probably the focal point of the offseason. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner was acquired for nearly nothing and figured to be a substantial upgrade to a goalie position that has been a significant weakness the past couple of years. But even that had some concerns. Not only was Fleury’s 2020-21 season a dramatic improvement from the previous year, but he is also a soon-to-be 37-year-old goalie with a LOT of mileage on the tires. Eventually even the greats start to break down. That does not even get into the reality that he would be going from playing behind one of the league’s best teams in Vegas to one of the leagues absolute worst defensive teams.

That has no doubt been a rude awakening over these first three games as the Blackhawks bleed chances against. Maybe a couple of those goals against, especially early in Pittsburgh on Saturday, were the result of some tough luck. A weird bounce on the first goal. A turnover by Fleury on the second. But the bottom line is the first goal was the result of Chicago’s defense giving up a 2-on-1 to Teddy Blueger‘s line 12 seconds into the first period. Eight minutes later they gave up a third goal where a Chicago breakaway resulted in no shot on goal at one end, and then seamlessly turning into a 2-on-1 for Drew O’Connor and Brock McGinn the other way (and McGinn easily burying an uncontested shot).

Colliton will talk about better starts, and simplifying the way they play to cut down on mistakes, and a lot of other coaching cliches for when a team is struggling. The harsh reality for Chicago is this: It was never a team that was one or two players away from contending. The problems run far deeper than that (organizationally, coaching, just the overall structure of the roster and its many shortcomings defensively) and no offseason band-aid was going to fix that.

NHL Power Rankings: Early season reactions (and overreactions)

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at some early season reactions (and overreactions, if the case may be) to the first week of play around the league.

Buffalo and Columbus are undefeated. Montreal and Vegas are winless. Pittsburgh keeps winning without its superstars. The Islanders forgot how to defend. Some of these things will continue. Some will not. We take a look at all of that and more.

Where does your team land in this week’s NHL Power Rankings?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Carolina Hurricanes (Last week: 4). If Frederik Andersen (and/or Antti Raanta) rebounds this team is going to be awfully difficult to beat. Andrei Svechnikov also looks like the breakout season is going to arrive.

2. Florida Panthers (LW: 6). Two impressive wins to open the season, rallying late against Pittsburgh and then crushing the Islanders. A lot to prove for this team this season with real expectations for the first time … ever?

3. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: 12). No Sidney Crosby? No Evgeni Malkin? No problem here. The Penguins got five out of six points in a tough stretch to open the season, scoring 15 goals in the process.

4. Colorado Avalanche (LW: 1). No Nathan MacKinnon to start the season and then losing Gabriel Landeskog to a suspension is a tough way to begin.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: 2). Little bit of a sloppy start to the season early on, but they still managed to win two of the three games. When you spend two seasons playing Stanley Cup Final games it can sometimes be tough to find that same motivation early in the season.

6. Boston Bruins (LW: 7). They paid big money for Linus Ullmark this offseason, but what if Jeremy Swayman ends up taking the job and is better? He might!

7. Minnesota Wild (LW: 9). They have a lot to build on after last season. They did what they are supposed to do in the first two games: Beat a couple of rebuilding teams.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 8). They haven’t impressed or disappointed so far. Just pretty much done what they are supposed to do. Great start for the perpetually underappreciated William Nylander though.

9. St. Louis Blues (LW: 10). David Perron had two goals in their impressive season opening win against Colorado. He has been tremendous during his most recent tour through St. Louis.

10. Washington Capitals (LW: 11). The two big questions here are goaltending and Evgeny Kuznetsov bouncing back. Through two games Vitek Vanecek has a .938 save percentage and Kuznetsov has three assists already. Good signs.

11. Vegas Golden Knights (LW: 3). They needed a controversial call to beat Seattle and then got crushed by LA. Early season injuries to Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty are not helping things.

12. New York Islanders (LW: 5). Their 13-game(!) season opening road trip is off to an uninspiring start having allowed 11 goals in two losses. Not too worried about that continuing.

13. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 17). Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are putting up numbers, which is no surprise. They have to love the development of Jesse Puljujärvi, who continues to build a nice career for himself.

[Related: Puljujärvi showing he belongs after rocky start to NHL career]

14. Dallas Stars (LW: 13). Slow start for Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov in their returns this season. Their presence should be the source of optimism.

15. Seattle Kraken (LW: 19). Solid start with three out of a possible six points. It probably should have been at least four points if they could have gotten a call late in that Vegas game.

16. New York Rangers (LW: 16). Adam Fox will win another Norris Trophy in his career. What a player.

17. Philadelphia Flyers (LW: 15). Four goals against in the season opener is probably not what the Flyers wanted to see from Carter Hart. Having to face 39 shots is probably not what Carter Hart wanted to see, either.

18. Los Angeles Kings (LW: 24). A monster year from Anze Kopitar will really help this team take a big step this season. He already has seven points in two games.

19. New Jersey Devils (LW: 22). Jack Hughes and Dougie Hamilton will make this team worth watching.

20. Calgary Flames (LW: 18). A week ago we wrote that they are not contenders and not rebuilding, just existing in a state of perpetual mediocrity. It still seems like a fitting entry for this team.

21. Ottawa Senators (LW: 26). Filip Gustavsson and Anton Forsberg have given them .937 goaltending through three games. Not surprising that it has resulted in two wins. Gustavsson is the intriguing one here. He, and not Matt Murray, is the future of this position here.

22. Detroit Red Wings (LW: 27). All aboard the Moritz Seider Calder Trophy bandwagon. Buy your tickets now.

23. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 30). Great starts for a lot of important players here, especially starting goalie Elvis Merzlikins. But the competition is going to get a lot tougher than Arizona and Seattle.

24. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 32). Not sure how many more times this season they will win back-to-back games, but a nice surprising start for a team that needs something positive.

25. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 23). J.T. Miller is an outstanding player that does not get enough credit for how good he is. Already four points in three games for him.

26. San Jose Sharks (LW: 28). This still seems like a bleak situation with the contracts, aging core, and goalie questions.

27. Winnipeg Jets (LW: 14). Do not get used to see them this low. Bad start. It happens. But losing back-to-back games against San Jose and Anaheim is not what you want to see.

28. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 29). The good news: Mason McTavish, Trevor Zegras, and Jamie Drysdale might be real building blocks here. Star potential with all of them. The Ducks need that. Very desperately.

29. Nashville Predators (LW: 25) Juuse Saros has been pretty solid so far and the team is still 0-2. That is not a good sign.

[Related: Predators are not really rebuilding or contending]

30. Arizona Coyotes (LW: 31). Brutal start for Carter Hutton to allow eight goals in the season opener. Good start for Karel Vejmelka to stop 32 out of 33 shots in his NHL debut.

31. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 21): This was always going to be a tough season after the excitement of last year’s Stanley Cup Final run, and this was about as frustrating of a start as they could have had.

32. Chicago Blackhawks (LW: 20) Not a very good team that is never ready to play. They have allowed a goal in the first five minutes of all three games this season, including goals in the first 20 seconds of each of the past two games. By the 10-minute mark of each game this season they have trailed 3-0, 1-0, and 3-0 respectively. Just terrible.

NHL Rink Wrap: Senators hold off Stars in Sunday’s only game

Top player from Senators – Stars

Connor Brown, Senators

Just 4:34 into Sunday’s Stars – Senators game, Michael Raffl gave Dallas a 1-0 lead. That advantage only lasted 50 seconds, however, as Brown piled up one of his first three assists on a Nick Paul goal.

In the process, Brown reached 100+ assists on his NHL career.

Ottawa provided some other candidates. Chris Tierney scored two power-play goals, including the eventual game-winner. The Senators seemed mostly content to sit on their lead in the third period, leaning on Filip Gustavsson in the process. Gustavsson stopped 32 out of 34 shots for a strong effort in victory.

Stars – Senators highlights

Being that it was Sunday’s lone NHL game, might as well watch the full Senators – Stars highlights, right?

Jamie Benn demanded a fight, and Josh Brown obliged.

Takeaways from Stars – Senators

Coaches still love sending Suter out there

When the Stars signed Ryan Suter, people pictured them getting more from less. To clarify: what if Suter — whose decline might have been exaggerated by excessive ice time — might slide into a more appropriate role?

Well, about that ….

In Suter’s Oct. 14 debut, he logged 22:19 time on ice. The Stars bumped Suter up to 23:35 against the Bruins on Saturday. On a back-to-back set, Suter logged 9:24 TOI in the first period alone. While that total is heightened by some long shifts (including a cardio-challenging 1:58 maratahon), that’s still a lot.

Suter is 36, and turns 37 on Jan. 21.

It’s early, but so far, the Stars still seem to view Suter as that same workhorse. Looking at underlying stats, Suter might benefit the Stars most in more of an offensive, sheltered role.

Old habits die hard (and transfer from team to team?) though, it seems.

We may know more about Sens after this four-game homestand

Apply that “it’s early” caveat to all of this. Go ahead. (Waits.)

Ultimately, we need to at least try to gauge where a team is trending for now. That’s why road trips and homestands can come in handy.

In closing out a back-to-back set vs. the Stars on Sunday, the Senators also began a four-game homestand. This could give us an early taste of whether Ottawa’s building beyond its rebuild. Ponder that four-game homestand:

  • Sunday vs. Stars.
  • Thursday vs. Sharks.
  • Saturday vs. Rangers.
  • Monday (Oct. 25) vs. Capitals.

None of those teams are at the top of Stanley Cup favorites lists, yet the Capitals are a playoff regular, and the Stars can go either way. Meanwhile, the Sharks are trying to fight a rebuild, and the Rangers want to take the same steps Ottawa hopes to make. So it’s an interesting mix of opponents, and an opportunity for Ottawa to make a statement or two.

Should Dallas open things up?

No doubt, teams can ride stingy defensive systems to great success. That said, winning by small margins of error means that you can’t afford to make many mistakes. Such systems can be great for goalies. Even so, if your goalies aren’t on task, it exposes them (and your team) to a greater degree.

During their surprise run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Stars found a way to strike the right balance. They were just aggressive enough offensively to make their defensive-minded approach work.

Credit the Stars for being a top-five team in expected goals against and high-danger chances against for the previous three seasons. You do that often enough, you’ll win more often than not.

But could the diminishing returns from last season be a sign of more slippage to come? From COVID to strange weather, enough stacked up against the 2020-21 Stars to see room for optimism. (After all, they got pretty close to snatching a playoff spot from the Predators.)

Games like Sunday’s against the Senators prompt some concern that the Stars can only win one way. Inevitably, you need to be able to fight back from leads, not just protect them.

Monday’s big story

Matthews debuts

So far, the Maple Leafs are 2-1-0 on this young season. They managed that mark without reigning Maurice Richard winner Auston Matthews, but he’s expected to play against the Rangers on Monday.

Even with the Rangers’ offseason fixated on toughness, there’s plenty of potential for fireworks in this one. Matthews, Mitch Marner, and a red-hot William Nylander give Toronto tons of scoring potential. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and a bucket of young players make New York dangerous. It’s a bummer that Kaapo Kakko went on IR, but it could still be a challenging one for the goalies involved.

Sunday’s NHL score

Senators 3, Stars 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL injury/news updates: Eichel, Kucherov, MacKinnon, Matthews

During the first week of the 2021-22 NHL season, there are injuries, players trying to recover from injuries, and other bits of news. Let’s round up some of the most noteworthy updates on Jack Eichel, Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, and more.

Report: Sabres don’t want to retain salary in an Eichel trade

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek provided some interesting details about Jack Eichel, John Klingberg, and others.

Both Eichel and Marek noted the Golden Knights and Avalanche at points showing at least some interest in Jack Eichel. Yet, the parameters of a trade set up a wall: the Sabres reportedly don’t want to retain salary in an Eichel trade.

They might be amenable to taking back money in the form of other contracts to make the Eichel contract work, however. Some supplementary thoughts:

  • Most immediately, Vegas has injury worries that would make an-already-cap-challenging Eichel trade tough to even imagine. Could there be room for some creativity, particularly if they moved Eichel onto LTIR?

Two contracts stick out: Evgenii Dadonov ($5M cap hit for two more seasons) and Reilly Smith ($5M, expires after this season). Tough to imagine the Golden Knights pulling off an Eichel trade. That said … they’ve pulled off bold, cap-defying moves before.

[Rink Wrap: catch up on Saturday’s NHL action.]

  • Ultimately, the lack of salary retention might matter most to the Avalanche. That’s because Nathan MacKinnon’s hyper-steal $6.3M cap hit evaporates after 2022-23. Managing everything with Eichel at full freight ($10M through 2025-26) would be difficult with MacKinnon’s raise, alongside big deals for Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, and Mikko Rantanen.

That said, there are some deals that could be moved. Some expiring contracts stand out (Andre Burakovsky, $4.9M; Nazem Kadri, $4.5M), at least if you mix in some two-year commitments (Erik Johnson at $6M; J.T. Compher at $3.5M). But would the Avalanche risk that much future flexibility? Sounds like the answer is no, at least without salary retention.

  • To some, this provides added motivation to gripe about the way the Sabres do business. To an extent, that’s fair.

However, at least some people may not consider that, if the Sabres retained salary for Jack Eichel, it would be for the five remaining seasons of his deal. Eventually, they’re hoping to compete; if they’re paying Eichel $1-$2M to compete for someone else, that’s wasted.

Yes, it’s part of doing business. Teams feel the same sting with a costly buyout. But the Sabres balking at salary retention in an Eichel trade isn’t totally out of bounds. At minimum, it should drive the asking price up considerably.

Interesting Stars – Klingberg rumblings

In that same Sportsnet segment, Marek and Friedman also discussed the expiring contract of Stars defenseman John Klingberg.

After watching other defensemen cash in, Marek reports that Klingberg wants a deal that could fall in the eight-year, $62-$66M range. That hypothetical contract would carry a cap hit between $7.75M – $8.25M.

It’s an interesting situation, overall.

On one hand, Klingberg’s raise is a long time coming. He’s been underrated for years, and also underpaid — his current $4.25M cap hit has been in place for seven seasons. That said, Klingberg is 29, and will turn 30 before his next contract begins (Aug. 14).

By a variety of metrics, there are red flags that Klingberg could go from underrated and underpaid to overpaid. Consider his SPAR (standings points above replacement) chart from Evolving Hockey:

Klingberg SPAR EVO NHL injury news trade updates
via Evolving Hockey

No shame in going from great to good, but teams should be picky when handing out max term and big salaries.

Also, even if Klingberg returns to his previous borderline-Norris level, he might run into something Dougie Hamilton experienced. Sometimes, a team just isn’t convinced you’re an $8M-ish defenseman.

  • Last season, Klingberg averaged less time on ice (22:42) than Miro Heiskanen (24:58) and Esa Lindell (23:11).
  • That also happened in 2019-20, with Lindell (23:25) managing a slightly larger gap (Klingberg – 22:10). Klingberg last topped the Stars in ice time in 2018-19, Heiskanen’s rookie season.
  • If the Stars view Klingberg as their third defenseman, that price tag would already be a hurdle. There’s also the larger question of the direction of this team. In the event that they miss the playoffs in 2021-22, would they really want to pay top dollar for Klingberg? Was the Ryan Suter signing already a signal that they’re moving on?

No doubt, if the Stars don’t sign Klingberg, he’d get a lot of attention on the trade and/or free agent markets.

NHL injury/COVID news: Kucherov, Matthews, MacKinnon, and more

  • The Maple Leafs received a mix of good and bad injury news.

The bad news is that Petr Mrazek is expected to miss about two weeks with a groin injury. Toronto will likely roll with a Jack CampbellMichael Hutchinson combo in Mrazek’s absence.

On the bright side, Auston Matthews is slated to make his season debut against the Rangers on Monday. After that, the Maple Leafs face a back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday.

  • Speaking of the Rangers, they placed Kaapo Kakko on injured reserve.
  • Unfortunately, Nathan MacKinnon still tested positive for COVID. The Athletic’s Peter Baugh reports that MacKinnon won’t travel on at least the first portion of Colorado’s upcoming road trip. It’s a three-game trip (at Washington on Tuesday, Florida on Thursday, and Tampa Bay on Saturday). Overall, the Avs play four of their next five games on the road.
  • Nikita Kucherov left Saturday’s OT win with an injury the Lightning said “didn’t look good.” Steven Stamkos said they’re praying Kucherov is OK, according to Joe Smith of The Athletic.

Sometimes a minor-looking exchange can result in an injury:

For even more player news, check out NBC Sports Edge.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: Bennett, McDavid enjoy Saturday hat tricks

Players of the Night

Sam Bennett, Panthers

Was Sam Bennett playing over his head after joining the Panthers in a trade? After all, Bennett scored more goals (six) and points (15) in 10 Panthers games than he managed in 38 games with the Flames last season (4G, 8A for 12 points). He couldn’t possibly match that pace over a full campaign, could he?

Probably not. But it’s still impressive that Bennett notced a hat trick, and did so against the normally-stingy Islanders.

Connor McDavid, Oilers

McDavid recorded his first three goals of the season during Edmonton’s 5-2 win over Calgary in this season’s first Battle of Alberta. The hat trick was the Oilers captain’s 10th of his career. Three of those 10 tricks have come versus the Flames.

Highlights from Saturday in the NHL

Brandon Tanev made moves with this goal …

… worthy of dusting off that Brandon Tanev face from his mugshot.

Pittsburgh Penguins Headshots
(Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Some doofus predicted a rebound season for Patrik Laine. Calling 40 goals for Laine was especially excessive, but maybe he can find his smile again? After starting the season with two assists, Laine generated the overtime game-winner as the Blue Jackets beat the Coyotes:

Alex Ovechkin once again doing Alex Ovechkin things:

Congrats to Katie Guay for becoming the first woman to ref an American Hockey League game. Guay wore the stripes for Saturday’s tilt between Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton:

Three Takeaways from NHL on Saturday

The Canadiens’ offense looks awful

Heading into the 2021-22 season, people focused on some of the losses the Canadiens endured possibly dooming them after that Cinderella run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. Yet, most of those losses were about losing defense. Shea Weber may never play again. Carey Price entered the player assistance program.

Even some of the departed forwards bring much of their value in limiting offense. (See: Phillip Danault.)

After going winless (and pointless) in their first three games, Montreal’s biggest offense is a lack of offense.

Before their deep playoff run, the story of the Canadiens was often about a team that could hog the puck, but not put that puck in the net. Maybe that’s an issue that will carry over to this season? Honestly, even during their playoff wins, it was often about suffocating opponents. They rarely lit up scoreboards.

With Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, the Canadiens have a duo that’s likely to start clicking. And even though Mike Hoffman looks lab-made to get in the doghouse and get scratched, he at least can shoot.

Overall, it’s best not to get too concerned. That said, the Canadiens have been one of those teams especially vulnerable to scoring slumps. This is at least a cause for some alarm.

Blunders aplenty for Blackhawks blueline

Imagine the frightful monster you’d get if you crossed the Canadiens’ offense with the Blackhawks’ defense.

(Sorry, but Halloween is near.)

Through three games, the Blackhawks have allowed a terrifying 13 goals, scoring six themselves. At times, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen carried some blame for those goals. Big-picture, though? The Blackhawks’ defense has been absolutely porous.

Consider their 5-on-5 high-danger chance results so far, via Natural Stat Trick:

  • In a 4-2 loss to the Avalanche, the Blackhawks lost the high-danger chance battle 11-3.
  • On the bright side, the Blackhawks salvaged a “charity point” while losing to Jack Hughes and the Devils 4-3 in OT. The Devils notched a 12-8 high-danger chance advantage there.
  • On Saturday night, the Blackhawks lost the high-danger chance battle to the Penguins (8-4), as Pittsburgh won 5-2.

No, the Blackhawks don’t have to play perfect defense to improve. Several NHL teams accept a certain number of mistakes, believing that they’ll create more than they allow.

But there’s not much defending how the Blackhawks are playing. That’s because they’re not doing much defending at all.

The Panthers sure look like a powerful scoring machine again

If you watched enough Panthers games last season, you likely ended up dazzled by their relentless attacking style. That said, some might downplay Florida’s success after a first-round exit (even if it came against the eventual, repeat Stanley Cup champ Lightning). Others might just wonder if the Panthers couldn’t repeat those results.

Drop that “it’s early caveat” in here, and throughout other takeaways. Nonetheless, the early signs are promising.

The Panthers didn’t just beat the Islanders, they hammered them 5-1. Speaking of high-danger chances, the Panthers generated an 8-3 edge in that department. (The volume was there, too, but the Islanders emphasize those Grade-A opportunities.)

Things weren’t as lopsided vs. the Penguins, but the Panthers created a ton of chances there too, scoring five goals as well.

Sometimes depth is overrated in the NHL. With the Panthers, an approach that emphasizes waves of offense — with some standouts, like Aleksander Barkov — could work a lot more often than it falls short.

Sunday’s big story

Stars vs. Senators

On Saturday in the NHL, hockey-lovers had to pick and choose. During especially busy hours, that even went for those who set up more screens than Batman did to catch the Joker. It can be a bit much. Even those with fortress-like bladders will need a rewind.

On Sunday, NHL fans have one choice: Stars at Senators, at 5 p.m. ET.

There, you can get a look at where the Stars might be pointed. Will this team be more like last season’s disappointment, or the surprise 2020 Stanley Cup Finalist?

And, you get a look at the upstart Senators. When’s that unparalleled success going to kick in, again?

Saturday’s NHL scores

Hurricanes 3, Predators 2
Blue Jackets 2, Kraken 1 (OT)
Lightning 2, Capitals 1 (OT)
Penguins 5, Blackhawks 2
Red Wings 3, Canucks 1
Maple Leafs 3, Senators 1
Bruins 3, Stars 1
Rangers 3, Canadiens 1
Panthers 5, Islanders 1
Sabres 2, Coyotes 1 (SO)
Wild 2, Kings 2
Oilers 5, Flames 2
Sharks 4, Jets 3
Blues 5, Avalanche 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: The Jack Hughes Show highlights Devils win

Player of the Night

Jack Hughes, Devils

New Jersey built up a 3-1 lead thanks to Dougie Hamilton‘s goal 17 seconds into the game and Hughes’ first of the season in the second period. But the Blackhawks scored twice in a 3:27 span late in the third to force overtime. It was there the young Devils star put on a brilliant solo display to win the game and then gifte a fan at Prudential Center a game-used stick.

Hughes’ first goal from Friday was pretty nifty, too.

Highlights from Friday in the NHL

The first of Carter Hart‘s rough goals felt a bit like “the nature of the beast.” The second cringe-worthy goal Carter Hart allowed, though? Pretty brutal. Elias Pettersson (again) put Hart in a bad spot, and J.T. Miller took care of the rest:

Marcus Foligno dropped the gloves with Max Jones in the first period and had the last laugh with a game-winning goal with 7.2 seconds left to help the Wild edge the Ducks:

Before that game, Trevor Zegras was just showing off:

The Blackhawks and Devils honored the late Jimmy Hayes Friday night:

Two Takeaways from NHL on Friday

So far, so very good for Devils and Dougie

As you can see above, Hamilton celebrated his big contract with the Devils by scoring right away. Then Jack Hughes did the rest to secure a debut win to kick off the Dougie days.

By the simplest terms, that’s a great debut.

But when you dig deeper … Dougie Hamilton shines even more.

Via Natural Stat Trick, the Devils dominated shot volume with Hamilton on the ice. Whether you count blocked shots (21 Corsi For, 7 against at even-strength), or not (17-6 Fenwick For), Hamilton tilted the ice in New Jersey’s favor.

• Hamilton’s Devils debut was strong in more than just “empty calories” ways. At 5-on-5, the Devils generated a 14-5 scoring chance advantage. As far as high-danger chances go? That’s a 7-3 mark. Just lights-out stuff.

• The simple stats are there, too. Hamilton earned a +3 rating, with the Devils generating three goals with him on the ice at 5-on-5, and not allowing one.

Vigneault sticks with Carter Hart after those tough goals

After four goals — including two especially painful ones — people were making jokes at Carter Hart’s expense. Or, they were making jokes about the Flyers’ backup plan of, uh, Martin Jones.

Of course, it’s far, far, far too early to assume Hart won’t rebound from his disappointing 2020-21 season. Plenty of people would’ve spared Hart the exposure of playing through the third period.

Instead, Alain Vigneault took the risk of added damage to Hart’s psyche. The young goalie bounced back with 15 saves in the third period, helping Philly gain a “charity point.”

Now, the Canucks still beat the Flyers. And Hart did allow Vancouver to score on both shootout chances. They’re not out of the woods by any means …

… But, hey, Vigneault stood by his goalie. It might just work out.

(Maybe Vigneault doesn’t have much of a choice, anyway?)

Saturday’s big story

Plenty of NHL season-openers

The 2021-22 NHL season’s been in action since Tuesday, yet quite a few teams open things up on Saturday. Here they are:

• Bruins host Stars at 7 p.m. ET.

• The Blues 2021-22 season begins the way their last one ended. They’re facing the mighty Avalanche at 9 p.m. ET after Colorado swept the Blues during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

• The Sharks kick off their 2021-22 season by hosting the Jets at 10 p.m. ET.

• Finally, the Flames begin their season against the hated Oilers at 10 p.m. ET.

We’ll get to see a retooled St. Louis lineup, and see how a mostly-intact Flames team handles what should be a high-pressure season. Should be a fun, busy Saturday in the NHL.

Friday’s NHL scores

Devils 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)
Canucks 5, Flyers 4 (SO)
Wild 2, Ducks 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.