- Chandler Stephenson is a game-time decision for the Vegas Golden Knights tonight against Perry and the Canadiens. The 27-year-old has developed into a top-line center with the Golden Knights this season, scoring 35 points in 51 regular season games, usually skating between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. Though he has failed to score a goal in 14 playoff games so far, he does have six points and has been excellent in the faceoff circle. Stephenson of course won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018 (defeating the Golden Knights) and would be a welcome addition to the lineup for this evening’s match.
Golden Knights Rumors
The good news: the NHL released another empty COVID Protocol Related Absences list today, indicating that no one from the Montreal Canadiens nor the opposing Vegas Golden Knights was infected in relation to Montreal head coach Dominique Ducharme testing positive. The bad news: another prominent non-player in the series has now tested positive.
TVA’s Renaud Lavoie was the first to report that Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon has tested positive for COVID-19. The team has stated that McCrimmon is self-isolating and will follow the NHL’s COVID Protocol and all other local health policies. McCrimmon traveled to Montreal for Game Three of the semifinal series and, if his positive test is confirmed, will be there for some time. Ducharme was placed in a mandated 14-day isolation following his positive test on Friday.
The timing of this positive test for McCrimmon looks especially bad given that he and President George McPhee were shown on Friday night’s television broadcast in a suite without masks, in violation of the league’s COVID Protocol. The NHL has reportedly already spoken to the team about this issue, but now that it has coincided with a positive test there has to at least be discussion about a fine, much like how the Washington Capitals were fined when their COVID Protocol violation led to two players being infected. Granted, this is fortunately not a case of a player catching the virus, but the optics are still poor, especially with the league and the Canadian government making exceptions to try to preserve the structure and integrity of the postseason.
The anxious waiting will now continue for another day or two to ensure that there still has been no spread to the locker rooms. In the meantime, Game Four will proceed as scheduled on Sunday night, as will travel back to Las Vegas.
The Vegas Golden Knights appear to be making a change in net for Game Four of their semifinal series against the Montreal Canadiens. After dropping Games Two and Three, with starter Marc-Andre Fleury not looking sharp, all signs point toward Robin Lehner taking over tonight. Lehner was in the starter’s net at morning skate and was also the first to leave the ice, typical indications that he will be getting the nod. While head coach Peter DeBoer would not confirm his starter, several sources including The Athletic’s Jesse Granger, have done so for him.
There is some reason to believe that this is perhaps gamesmanship by the Knights and that Lehner may not start tonight. He has only played once in the playoffs – a disastrous Game One start to the West Division Final against the Colorado Avalanche – and has only played four times total in the past 50 days. In those four appearances, Lehner has allowed 18 goals and posted an .843 save percentage. Lehner only played in 19 games total in the regular season and while his numbers are strong, they tailed off toward the end of the year.
With that said, Lehner is just one year removed from a stellar season postseason that earned him a long-term extension with Vegas. After being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks, he won all three of his regular season starts with a .940 save percentage and 1.67 GAA. He followed that up with 16 playoff starts in which he posted a .917 save percentage and 1.99 GAA. The Golden Knight’s exit from the playoffs was wholly unrelated to the play they received from Lehner. If there is any chance that he can provide that caliber of play again, especially with Fleury looking flustered at times of late and facing a pivotal Game Four, this move makes plenty of sense for Vegas. They have two No. 1 goalies, may as well use both.
There has been very little information regarding the absence of Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson who has missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury. SinBin.Vegas reports (Twitter link) that Stephenson is dealing with concussion-like symptoms from a hit from Ben Chiarot in the first game of the series and that he is not with the team in Montreal. The 27-year-old had a career year this season with 35 points in 51 games (plus six assists in 14 playoff contests) and while they did get Tomas Nosek back on Friday, Stephenson’s absence will be a tough one to fill. As is the case with any type of concussion symptoms, it appears as if there’s no timetable for his return.
Sometimes “indefinitely” really does just mean unknown and not extended. The term is never intended to imply a long injury absence, but has taken on that ominous message when included in NHL injury timelines. Case in point: Montreal Canadiens’ forward Jake Evans. Just ten days after being ruled out “indefinitely” with a concussion and only four days since an update indicated there was still no timeline for a return, Evans is reportedly making progress in his recovery and traveling with the team to Las Vegas to open up their semifinal series with the Vegas Golden Knights, per TSN.
When Evans took a massive, long-distance hit from Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele at the end of Game One of the North Division finals, it certainly didn’t look good. Evans was stretched off the ice following the bone-rattling check and there was great concern for a player with a history of concussions. The play ended up ending Scheifele’s season, as his suspension outlasted the end of the Jets’ postseason efforts, but it was also expected to end Evans’ as well. Yet, TSN reports that Evans has been working out off-ice for several days without issue, skated on Saturday, and overall is making great progress while also going through the league’s concussion protocol. Evans will join the traveling party for the team’s trip to Vegas for Games One and Two, something that would definitely not be happening if he was still experiencing concussion symptoms and likely would not be happening if there wasn’t at least a chance that he might play.
With all that said, Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme has stated that is “not very confident” that Evans will play in Game One. It’s unclear if Evans is simply not healthy to play yet, or if this is a roster decision based on the bottom-six forward not being at full strength. Ducharme applied the same label to injured defensemen Jeff Petry and Jon Merrill as well, providing not added insight. However, Ducharme did say that he believes Evans could be “ready” in three-to-four days, which could put him in line for a Game Two start on Wednesday. If Evans returns at any point in this series, or even this postseason, it will be a surprise to many who saw his injury occur and expected the worst.
- Golden Knights center Tomas Nosek is getting closer to returning to the lineup, GM Kelly McCrimmon told reporters, including Ben Gotz of The Athletic (Twitter link). The veteran has missed the last 11 games since leaving their second contest against Minnesota back in the first round with an unspecified injury. Nosek has been an important depth player for Vegas since joining them in expansion and surprisingly had a career year offensively this season with 18 points in just 38 games.
The Seattle Kraken will be much more than just an idea with one undrafted junior player on their roster by the time the 2021 NHL Entry Draft rolls around. The club will have added at least 30 players to their arsenal by way of the Expansion Draft several days earlier. Seattle is not expected to have the same advantage in making side deals like the Vegas Golden Knights did in 2017, as the other 30 teams have learned their lesson. However, one major advantage they will have compared to Vegas is in the Entry Draft. Picking No. 2 overall after moving up in the draft lottery, the Kraken will pick four spots higher than the Knights, who slid to No. 6 overall in their lottery. While Vegas’ first ever draft pick, Cody Glass, is still fighting for regular play time on the NHL roster four years later, Seattle has a chance to add a player who can contribute right away in their inaugural season – one way or another.
The results of the Expansion Draft are unlikely to change the Kraken’s draft plans. They will have several days between the submission of Expansion Draft protection lists and the draft itself and to map out their plan of attack and to talk trade with the rest of the league. Sure, they could find that there are some unexpected trade options that could allow them to add other picks and prospects ahead of the draft, but unlikely anything that will change their opinion on how best to use the No. 2 pick. Only the Buffalo Sabres at first overall could potentially throw Seattle a curveball. Otherwise, their plan should be set well ahead of July 23.
So what should Seattle do with the second overall pick? It is a critical pick that will undoubtedly impact the new franchise for years to come. What is the best approach?
Take The Best Available Player – Pretty straightforward, right? The Kraken should take the best player remaining on their board after Buffalo makes their selection. Regardless of the positional value or any perceived positional needs following the Expansion Draft, Seattle should simply take the prospect that they feel has the highest ceiling and most realistic pro ambitions. While there is no consensus top prospect in this draft, many feel that University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power is that top prospect. If the Kraken agree and Buffalo goes elsewhere at No. 1, they pull the trigger.
Take The Best Available Center – Center is the position that many point to as the most important in the NHL and feel that a true No. 1 center is the hardest player to find. At No. 2 overall and Power potentially going first to Buffalo, Seattle could conceivably have their pick of every forward in the draft class to find that future top center. That could very well be Power’s Wolverines teammate Matthew Beniers. Even if Beniers or another center isn’t the best player on their board, Seattle shouldn’t pass up on the opportunity to add an elite prospect down the middle.
Take The Best Available Defenseman – Some live by the team-building mantra of building from the net out. While goalie Jesper Wallstedt is an elite prospect, he isn’t going No. 2 overall. However, the Kraken could instead choose to bolster their blue line with an elite prospect. Even if Power is off the board and there are forwards ranked higher on their draft board, Seattle needs to target one of the small group of blue chip defenders in the draft class, such as Brandt Clarke or Luke Hughes.
Trade Back And Add Picks – Starting a pipeline from scratch is about quantity over quality, right? The No. 2 overall pick is nice, but if Seattle isn’t able to acquire any other top picks in Expansion Draft deals, they would be better off trading back and adding picks. The New Jersey Devils at No. 4 and Columbus Blue Jackets at No. 5, both with extra first-rounders, seem like enticing trade partners. All three of Clarke, Hughes, or Wallstedt could still be available at either of those picks.
Trade For Established Star – Seattle doesn’t want a slow build-up. They want to compete right away like Vegas, but they won’t be able to so easily dupe the rest of the league in the Expansion Draft. Perhaps they should use the No. 2 overall pick as part of a deal to pry a star from a rebuilding team. Jack Eichel? Dylan Larkin? Logan Couture? Patrik Laine or Seth Jones?
What do you think? Which direction should GM Ron Francis and company go with the franchise’s first pick and the second pick of the 2021 NHL Draft?
The NHL released a blank COVID Protocol Related Absences list today as the lone remaining member, Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb, has been removed. McNabb had been in the protocol and in isolation since May 26 following a positive test, but was expected to come off the list when he was spotted skating ahead of Vegas’ morning skate on Sunday.
However, McNabb’s return to the lineup remains on hold. Although he has exited isolation following the required ten days, the NHL’s COVID Protocol states that any player who tests positive for Coronavirus “must refrain from exercise for a total of 14 days from the time of the first positive test” and also must pass cardiac testing. This means that McNabb cannot return to action until Wednesday at the earliest. His morning skate participation likely falls under the “low-grade exercise” permitted if a player has been asymptomatic.
With the Colorado Avalanche up 2-1 in the West Division finals and Games Four and Five scheduled for Sunday and Tuesday, McNabb will need his Knights teammates to force a Game Six on Thursday in order for him to have any chance to return. The irony is that Vegas could desperately use McNabb’s defensive play in order to pick up more wins against a dynamic Avalanche offense.
The NHL has announced the finalists for yet another of its end of the year awards, the Frank J. Selke Trophy. Always a hotly-contested and highly-debated award, the Selke Trophy is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association on the basis of “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” The 2020-21 finalists are Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov, Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, and Vegas Golden Knights winger Mark Stone.
Bergeron should of course come as no surprise. The Bruins captain is a finalist for a record tenth consecutive year and one of only two four-time winners in league history, alongside Bob Gainey who won the award in each of the first four seasons that it existed. Considered by some to be the best defensive forward to ever play the game, Bergeron is always a safe bet to be a Selke contender, especially when he again led the league at the face-off dot this season, recording a 62.5% winning percentage. Bergeron also led the NHL in total face-offs won, while leading the Bruins forwards in blocked shots, short-handed time on ice, and career-best possession stats.
With that said, some wondered if Bergeron was even the best defensive forward on his own team this year with the success that Brad Marchand had forcing turnovers, checking, and recording a league-leading seven short-handed points, not to mention leading all non-Oilers in league scoring. If Bergeron faced competition even on his own team, perhaps the door is open for one of the other finalists to prevent him from taking home a record fifth Selke win.
Barkov led a resurgent Panthers team to the postseason this year, topping all Florida forwards in ice time, takeaways, and possession, as well as points per game, and was second in blocked shots. Barkov finished in the top-15 league-wide in face-offs taken, won, and percentage. A first-time Selke finalist, Barkov has nevertheless established himself as one of the best defensive forwards in the league right now and his candidacy is long overdue.
As for Stone, he is looking to become the first winger to win the Selke since Jere Lehtinen did so three times, the last coming in 2002-03. A takeaway machine, no player in the NHL has forced more turnovers during Stone’s career, as he led the league for the fifth time again this year. Stone led all Knights forwards in time on ice and finished third in short-handed time on ice per game and blocked shots per game. Stone also led all forwards in points and plus/minus. However, Stone faces an uphill battle to win without any face-off contributions and he may also be dinged for not being more engaged in the checking game, trailing Bergeron and Barkov in hits per game despite his considerable size advantage.
Other than Marchand, other potential snubs include recent winners Sean Couturier and Ryan O’Reilly, while some felt that Sidney Crosby deserved recognition for what was arguably the best two-way season of his storied career. However, few will argue that the PHWA didn’t settle on the right choices for the top three this year.
Each day, the NHL will publicly release the list of players that are unavailable to their respective teams due to being in the COVID-19 Protocol. Here is today’s list for the remaining playoff teams:
Vegas – Brayden McNabb
As a reminder, inclusion on this list does not mean that a player has tested positive for Coronavirus or even that they have been confirmed as a close contact to another positive person. Included in the NHL’s list of possible reasons for someone being on the list is are the following:
(1) an initial positive test which remains unconfirmed until confirmatory testing is completed pursuant to the Positive Test Protocol; (2) mandated isolation for symptomatic individuals pursuant to the Positive Test Protocol; (3) required quarantine as a high-risk close contact in accordance with the Positive Test Protocol; (4) isolation based on a confirmed positive test result and/or; (5) quarantine for travel or other reasons as outlined in the COVID-19 Protocol
Players removed today: Jayson Megna, Colorado Avalanche
After a long stretch with one player from each team in the ongoing West Division Finals being sidelined on the CPRA list, it’s now down to just one. The wait continues for McNabb to return to the Golden Knights, but Megna is now available to the Avalanche. The veteran forward only played in seven NHL games this year and had not seen any postseason action before he landed on the CPRA list, so this is not the same level of impact as if McNabb, a regular defenseman for Vegas, was able to return. The countdown is now on for the league to get back to an empty list.