June 30 — Extensions, Expectations & the NWHL Draft

On Tap For Today — Montreal at Tampa Bay 8 pm EDT; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, SN

Tuesday’s Toe Drags

NUGENT-HOPKINS STAYING PUT: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signed an eight-year contract extension worth $41 million with the Oilers. The 28-year-old centre was drafted first overall by Edmonton in 2011.

THE WAYNE TRAIN REMAINS: The Wayne Train is not leaving the station anytime soon. Simmonds inked a two-year extension with the Maple Leafs worth $1.8 million. He is looking for redemption after his team’s postseason elimination and stated, “I just wanted to be back on this team and prove all our naysayers wrong.”

BUFFALO’S NEW COACH: Don Granato has been named the Head Coach of the Buffalo Sabres. He has been with the club since 2019 as an assistant coach and became the interim head coach after Ralph Krueger’s departure. Hockey Twitter seems to approve of the hire, and — for now — Buffalo fans can experience a moment of excitement.  

WEBER FINED FOR SLASH: Canadiens captain Shea Weber has been fined $5,000 for slashing Nikita Kucherov in Game 1. The referees did not call a penalty for the slash, which took place with under five minutes left in the third period. Kucherov was not injured on the play and will play in Game 2. 

WHAT A ROSTER: ESPN released its broadcasting roster for the upcoming season and it is filled with some beauties — including Chris Chelios and Mark Messier. Leah Hextall will handle Play-by-Play and Ryan Callahan will serve as one of the analysts. I haven’t seen a roster this deep since the Tampa Bay Lighting hit the ice. 

ON THE CLOCK: The National Women’s Hockey League hosted the 2021 NWHL Draft last night. The five-round event was featured live on Twitch and saw 30 women selected across the six NWHL member organizations.

AND THE WINNER IS: The NHL announced the winners of the Hart, Norris, Vezina, and Calder Trophies, as well as the Ted Lindsay Award on Tuesday. While some recipients were expected, others were the cause of much debate. Congratulations to all the winners!

Lessons Learned in Game 1

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final ended exactly the way most expected — with a Tampa Bay Lightning victory. The score may have been a bit more lopsided than some anticipated, but it is clear Tampa picked up right where they left off this past September.

Right from puck drop the Canadiens seemed overmatched. The Lightning came out surging — striking first within the opening seven minutes of the game — and continued attacking until the final buzzer. With home ice advantage working in Tampa’s favor, Montreal was unable to get forward Phillip Danault on the ice against the top line for the Lightning and instead matched up against Tampa’s gritty third line. Danault was a key contributor to Montreal winning its semifinal series by shutting down Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Canadiens will need him to stymie the Bolts’ top line for any chance of winning the Cup.

If Montreal wants to even the series they will need to modify its plan for attack. While playing on the road, the Canadiens won’t get its ideal matchups and Luke Richardson will need to be prepared to take advantage of any opportunities that present throughout the game. Tyler Toffoli’s line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield had a rough night battling Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov — who combined for seven points. The Lightning’s depth is difficult to match and has been overwhelming for every team Tampa has faced in the postseason so far, which — unless adjustments are made — could result in a short series.

One aspect that was not missing from Monday’s game was physicality. An impressive 115 hits were exchanged during the 60 minutes of play. To no one’s surprise, Blake Coleman led the way with 11 hits for the Lightning, while Josh Anderson was first among the Habs with eight hits in the game. These two teams know what waits for them at the end of this series, and wasted no time trying to feel each other out. Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher saw the worst of it — heading to the locker room bloodied after hitting the ice head first without his helmet in the third and did not return.

Game 2 will take place tonight at 8:00 pm EDT on NBCSports, CBC, Sportsnet and TVAS.

What Went Wrong

Only two survivors are onto the Stanley Cup Final, which was made possible as two worthy contenders fell by the wayside. To make the NHL’s final four is no small achievement, so — before we pretend like there are only two teams that matter — let’s offer some attention to those who came oh-so-agonizingly close to playing for the Cup. In conjunction with our “In Memoriam” segment, we are using this space to offer some final words to these vanquished hopefuls.

New York Islanders

That the stacked Tampa Bay Lightning and the gritty, defensively sound New York Islanders went the distance in their semifinal series wasn’t a big surprise — how they got there, however, was considerably more curious. There were five tight, one-goal games — including an OT thriller… oh, and an 8-0 Game 5 shellacking by the Bolts.

The 8-0 blowout was ugly, but the Isles’ ensuing Game 6 overtime victory spoke to the club’s resiliency and mental toughness — as did a Game 7 in which they held Tampa at Bay (ha!), save for Yanni Gourde‘s second period short-handed marker that would be the game’s lone goal.

The New York Islanders celebrate after a game winning goal in overtime in Game Six at Nassau Coliseum (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

Defense wasn’t an issue for the Islanders against the Lightning, or all season for that matter. If you remove Game 5 from the equation, New York surrendered just 12 goals in six games to a potent Tampa offense. Unfortunately, they only got 11 pucks past Andrei Vasilevskiy in the series, highlighting a scoring depth deficiency.

After enjoying a fairly effective postseason against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins over the first two rounds, the third line of Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Kyle Palmieri, and Travis Zajac produced a big goose egg against Tampa. Palmieri and Zajac, who were recently acquired at the trade deadline, are heading into free agency — leaving their future on Long Island in doubt.

Looking ahead, GM Lou Lamoriello has a tricky offseason looming. While the preseason Mathew Barzal extension means the club’s big guns are locked in, contracts for key RFA’s Adam Pelech, Anthony Beauvillier, and Ilya Sorokin, as well as UFA Casey Cizikas, await. Some cap wiggle room could be achieved by finding a taker for the $3 million left on Leo Komarov’s contract — if Lamoriello can bear to part with his beloved veteran agitator.

In terms of addressing that scoring depth issue, getting a healthy Anders Lee back will surely help — as will another year of experience for talented young forward Oliver Wahlström. As for the rest, Lamoriello has a pretty good track record when it comes to getting what he needs.