NHL’s Phase 2 allows for small-group training

    Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.

The NHL is ready to move to Phase 2 of its plan to return to play, and it will soon allow players to train in small groups at team facilities, according to a memo circulated to teams over the weekend.

The NHL didn’t put an exact date on when Phase 2 will go into effect, though it said it was targeting early June. In the memo, the league said it will continue to “monitor developments in each of the club’s markets, and may adjust the overall timing if appropriate.”

Phase 1 involved self-quarantine for players and hockey staff and began on March 12.

The new protocols would allow for a maximum of six players to train at the team facilities at once. On-ice sessions are for players only, with no coaches or other team personnel allowed on the ice. Players must wear face coverings at all times, except when they are exercising or on the ice.

The NHL stressed that participation in Phase 2 is “strictly voluntary” and teams should not require players to return to their playing city yet. On March 16, players were told they could travel anywhere; last week, commissioner Gary Bettman revealed that 17% of players were currently outside North America.

According to the memo, players who live in an NHL market who don’t play for that team can have access to that facility.

Phase 2 is a crucial step for the NHL as it aims to complete the 2019-20 season and award a Stanley Cup this summer. On Friday, the NHLPA’s executive board approved the format the NHL can use if it returns to play. Twenty- four teams would make the field — including the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks, who were both sellers at the trade deadline. The top four teams would get byes.

There are still plenty of details to work out, including whether the teams will be reseeded after the first round.

The NHL is aiming to stage games in two or four “hub cities,” which will be in existing NHL markets. The NHL has narrowed its list down to eight or nine options. Las Vegas is a heavy favorite, given the NHL’s strong relationship with the city and its ability to potentially house as many as 12 teams in one hotel. League sources say the NHL would also like to choose a Canadian city as a host for a variety of reasons — one of which is that it is cheaper to stage games in Canada.

Players and staff participating in Phase 2 will be tested for coronavirus two days before they are scheduled to participate. They will be tested twice a week afterward, though players are told to self-administer temperature symptom checks daily.

The NHL has been conscious of not overstepping its boundaries when it comes to procuring coronavirus tests, and stressed that in Phase 2, testing of asymptomatic players “must be done in the context of excess testing capacity, so as to not deprive health care workers, vulnerable populations and symptomatic individuals from necessary diagnostic tests.”

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Lightning’s Alex Killorn explains why team voted ‘no’ on 24-team playoff format

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn confirmed to The Athletic Saturday that the team voted against the NHL’s proposed 24-team playoff format. Killorn, the Lightning’s National Hockey League Players’ Association rep, said everyone on the team wants to play but felt certain aspects of the format were unfair.

“They didn’t feel it was fair that certain teams that probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs would have a chance to make the playoffs in a best-of-five series,” Killorn told The Athletic. “My team also felt it was unfair that the teams with a bye would not be as well prepared for a playoff series as the teams that had already basically played a playoff series to get into the playoffs.”

Killorn said the vote was the opinion of the entire team, not just his alone.

“As the PA rep, I have a duty to represent the voice of my entire team,” Killorn explained. “I don’t want people to think we don’t want to play. Everyone on our team wants to play. In saying that, we are fine with the vote the PA took and we are ready with it going forward.”

Stanley Cup playoffs 2020: Everything we know

Tampa Bay had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at the season’s pause with 92 points. In the reported 24-team playoff format, Tampa Bay would play a round-robin against the other top-four teams in the conference to determine the seeding.

Killorn voiced concern about the round-robin portion Friday in a call with reporters and whether those games will properly prepare them for the 16-team playoff.

“The only problem I have with that format is that the top teams that have a bye,” Killorn described. “I don’t know how competitive the games will be going forward where the teams at the bottom will be playing playoff games right away and [would be] potentially more prepared for the real playoffs.”

The competitiveness of the four-team round-robin is of concern for the Bolts after what happened to them last year.

Tampa Bay clinched the President’s Trophy on March 18, 2019, and played the final nine games of the regular season with nothing to play for. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, secured a playoff berth on the second-to-last day of the regular season.

Columbus rode that momentum into the series with Tampa Bay and completed the stunning first-round sweep.

Another concern Killorn’s teammates had was being in a “hub city” for a long period of time, a concern shared by players around the league.

“It’s going to be tough to be away and we don’t know how long we’ll be away,” Killorn said. “We’ll be somewhere that’s foreign, but no one is going to be in a comfortable situation.

“You don’t know how many chances you’re going to get at winning this [Stanley Cup], especially when you have a team that you think can compete for it. So you’re willing to make whatever sacrifices you need to do that.”

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NHLPA board approves plan for 24-team playoffs

    Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

The National Hockey League Players’ Association executive board voted to approve a 24-team, conference-based playoff format for a potential restart of the 2019-20 NHL season this summer.

“The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play,” the union said in a statement.

Under the plan, the top four seeds in each conference, as determined by their standings points percentage when the regular season was paused on March 12, would receive byes through a round of best-of-five play-in series featuring seeds 5 through 12. Those play-in series would determine which teams advance to a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket, which would have seven-game series.

The NHLPA board had what was described by a source as a “long, intense” conference call Thursday night to discuss the format, and a vote was conducted over the next 24 hours.

The full NHLPA board was involved in the vote — including the 24 teams that would advance to the playoffs and the seven non-playoff teams whose seasons would be over by adopting the plan. The format was created by the joint “Return To Play” committee that included NHL executives and a panel of players.

The next step is the NHL signing off on the NHLPA’s approved format. A joint announcement on the format could come in the next few days. The NHL is expected to move forward on announcing plans for the NHL draft lottery and the draft itself after this playoff format is announced. It has not been determined when and how players will be able to return to their training facilities.

Approval of the playoff format shouldn’t be confused with the players’ formal approval of the season restarting. It addresses only the structure of the postseason if teams return to the ice. There are still major issues on which the players and NHL have to find common ground, including where the games will be played and how players will be tested for COVID-19.

The players’ approved playoff plan would temporarily replace the divisional wild-card format the league has used since 2013 with two conference tournaments of 12 teams.

Under the proposed format, the seeding and play-in series would be as follows:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Top seeds: Boston Bruins (1), Tampa Bay Lightning (2), Washington Capitals (3), Philadelphia Flyers (4)
Play-in series: Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12), Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs. New York Rangers (11), New York Islanders (7) vs. Florida Panthers (10), Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Top seeds: St. Louis Blues (1), Colorado Avalanche (2), Vegas Golden Knights (3), Dallas Stars (4)
Play-in series: Edmonton Oilers (5) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (12), Nashville Predators (6) vs. Arizona Coyotes (11), Vancouver Canucks (7) vs. Minnesota Wild (10), Calgary Flames (8) vs. Winnipeg Jets (9)

Though the NHL’s version of the plan had the teams bracketed, there was a push among some of the players to reseed the teams after the first round. This will be a point of further negotiation.

Those top four teams in each conference won’t sit idly by. The format calls for these teams to face one another to remain sharp ahead of the next round of the playoffs — which had been a concern from the players. The top four teams would essentially play some form of a round-robin tournament that would potentially reseed them before the round of 16.

Fans will not be allowed at the games, and logistics remain a work in progress.

The NHL probably will utilize only two “hub” cities for its restart from the coronavirus pandemic if the proposed playoff format is adopted, an NHL source told ESPN. The NHL explored using four “hub” arena sites for the restart. Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday that eight or nine locations are under consideration. Las Vegas is widely considered to be a favorite.

Expanding the Stanley Cup playoffs from 16 to 24 teams has been favored by the NHL as an equitable solution for teams that were near the playoff bubble when the season was paused. For example, only four points separated the now-11th-seeded Coyotes from the final wild-card spot, and they had 12 games left in the season.

The NHLPA, however, has expressed reservations about an expanded playoff format. Predators forward Matt Duchene said this week that he would like to see a more traditional format.

“I believe let’s keep it as traditional as possible. I’d love to see us jump to a 16-team playoff,” Duchene said on Sportsnet 590, warning that too much gimmickry in the playoff format would be detrimental. “You don’t want to have a ‘COVID Cup,’ and I’m worried that if we force this thing and try and it’s a little gimmicky and it’s not quite right, whoever wins the Cup is gonna have people try to take it away from them for their whole lives, and guys don’t deserve that.”

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Why virtual reality is still a pipe dream for the NHL

    Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis believes sports are a “communal resource.” Even as the coronavirus pandemic shutters arenas and postpones games and creates a murky uncertainty about the future of sports, Leonsis believes the community will have access to that resource again.

“I’m not buying, in any way, that we won’t be able to eat in restaurants before a game at Capital One Arena and all be together,” he said recently, during a web chat with The Economic Club of Washington. “It’s just a matter of what time frame that has to happen in.”

Until it happens, Leonsis suggested an alternative means for fans who aren’t in the arena to experience the game: “Maybe it’s through virtual reality.”

Virtual reality and the NHL are like that couple that talks about engagement for a decade but never gets around to ring shopping. I remember back in 2015 when the league tested a 360-degree virtual reality experience at its Stadium Series game between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings at Levi’s Stadium. Cameras were mounted on the glass, filming HD images. The results were encouraging, providing a panoramic view of some recorded on-ice action. One test even allowed fans to go from watching a play in the stands to floating above the goalie and the goal line. It was pretty cool.

The expectations coming out of that experiment were nothing short of VR eventually changing the way fans watch the game, perhaps even solving the most vexing riddle for the NHL on television: How to transfer the unparalleled joys of watching hockey in an arena to someone’s rec room. With VR, it’s not only about capturing the speed and scope of live hockey, but also recreating that personal experience for the fan.

“There’s going to be a technology soon where you’re going to be sitting at home and pick where you want to watch the game. You could be sitting at home and still watch it from your seat,” said John Collins, then the league’s COO, at the time. “That was the thing that was pretty cool about it: It was a live experience.”

That was five years ago.

Surely, virtual reality is ready to bridge the fan experience from the couch to the arena during a global pandemic, right?

“So many people have thrown that out there,” San Jose Sharks president Jonathan Becher told me last month. “I’m sorry to say it, but the tech’s not there.”

Sigh.

This has been the story of VR for my entire life: The virtual promise, followed by the underwhelming reality.

It was the story when I wore clunky headsets at Six Flags during the summer, spending $5 to “ride” a virtual coaster. It was the story when 1990s movies like “Hackers” and “Disclosure” ineptly incorporated VR into their plots — remember a digitized Michael Douglas looking for a file in a virtual palace, and it taking about 25 times longer than using a laptop? It was the story with Nintendo’s “Virtual Boy.” It was the story with Batman: Arkham VR.

It was the story when we asked if VR was a bust in 2016 and when it was a “promise unfulfilled” in 2019 and in The New York Times this week, when author Kevin Roose lamented that “every time, I’ve found myself excited by the promise of futuristic VR and disappointed by the inevitable letdown of experiencing the actual limited systems” –before extolling the potential of the next generation of VR hardware.

Roose’s story asks why, in this time of social distancing, VR hasn’t had its moment. Sales of Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR have been brisk, as their limited quantities were snatched up. But as an immersive alternative to … well, “life as we knew it,” there’s no strapping on a headset and feeling like you’re at the Winter Classic.

Which has to be frustrating for the NHL. VR demos have made more appearances at the All-Star Game in the past five years than Alex Ovechkin has. As the league contemplates how to turn empty arena games into must-see television spectacles, virtually transporting fans into those barren stands to watch playoff action would have been a game-changer. Especially when we’re not sure if fans will be back in arenas for the start of the 2020-21 season, either.

“It’s great in theory, focusing in on the social aspect — that you can be watching with your dad or a friend, virtually next to each other,” a source that’s worked on the NHL’s VR ventures told me last week. “But unless the camera tech and compression technology gets better, it would be a very hard lift to have VR be the primary broadcast.”

Problem No. 1: The current VR cameras do not zoom, making a live stream of games a staid experience. Problem No. 2: Stitching together multiple camera feeds in real time — or even a day later — would be a significant task. That’s to say nothing of the file sizes for VR, which are still elephantine, especially since the tech involves an array of HD cameras rather than just one.

“Over time, it may become a reality,” said the source, “but it’s certainly no short-term solution.”

Oh well. Maybe next pandemic.

Jersey Fouls

Some preemptive measures for the eventual return to arenas:

Look, after waiting an hour to enter the building through one designated entrance, getting a temperature check, making our way to our socially distanced seat and cheering for our favorite team through a mask … if we see you skipping around the concourse in a COVID-19 Jersey Foul, I can assure you that you will not leave the arena wearing that jersey.

Top three jerseys I want back in the NHL

The Colorado Avalanche are reportedly ready to bring back the Quebec Nordiques’ classic sweaters to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the franchise’s relocation. And really, what better way to celebrate than to remind an entire swath of a province of that time a perennial loser abandoned them right before a run of 10 straight playoff appearances and two Stanley Cup championships?

But that got us thinking about other out-of-circulation jerseys we’d like to see make their comebacks in the NHL:

1. New York Rangers: “Liberty Head”

As an Original Six team, I’ve always believed the Rangers were better than their diagonal text sweaters, which look like a temporary jersey they wore until the actual logo was finished. The “Liberty Head” arrived in 1996 and was worn on and off through 2007.

It’s basically perfect, from the gorgeous dark blue to the aggressive spikes on the crown of New York’s most iconic woman outside of Cardi B. It’s big. It’s bold. It’s befitting a team from Manhattan. Sure, it’s a jersey most closely associated with a period of post-Cup failure and big-budget flops, but what’s New York City if not a place for second acts?

2. Buffalo Sabres: “Buffaslug”

As long as we’re taking sweaters out of mothballs for anniversaries, 2021 marks the 15th anniversary of the infamous “Buffaslug,” on which the Sabres poured salt in 2010. You remember all the detractors: It’s an “angry cashew” or “terrible hairpiece” or “embarrassing, even for Buffalo.” Has time treated them better? Well, they’re clearly not the worst Sabres sweaters of the past 20 years, thanks to that truly terrible 2013 golden alternate jersey. Maybe bring it back for just one night, to see what Jack Eichel looks like in one?

(For what it’s worth, the “Slug” has been in the news lately. Please recall it was originally inspired by the San Diego Chargers’ logo. The Chargers’ flattened new logo, and the L.A. Rams’ new look have gotten “Buffaslug” comparisons.)

3. Edmonton Oilers: McFarlane Jerseys

I once asked comics artist Todd McFarlane about the backlash to these jerseys, which he designed and the team wore from 2001 to ’07 — and he said he wasn’t aware of any. “If somebody doesn’t like something, I don’t get hung up on it, because we don’t live in a penal colony,” he said.

His goal was to create a homage to the Oilers while also making it look cool enough for people outside of Edmonton to buy it, mostly by not putting “Edmonton” or “Oilers” on the logo. (This was his rationale, not mine.)

I loved these jerseys, even if the logo looks like a loogie hocked by Doctor Doom. I think they’d sell more than a few of them with “McDavid 97” on the back. Or maybe I’m just a big fan of Image Comics and still play with my McFarlane Toys. One of the two.

Listen to ESPN On Ice

We could have talked to Kevin Bieksa for 10 hours on the podcast this week. Great stories and observations, from the Sedins to the 2011 Cup Final to TikTok stardom. Plus, AHL president Dave Andrews joined us to discuss the league’s canceled season. We also talk NHL season restart and more. Listen, subscribe and review here!

Winners and losers of the week

Winner: Dave Andrews

Andrews has served his league, and this sport, for 26 years as AHL president. He’s stepping down in June, with Scott Howson taking over. It’s such a bummer that he won’t hand out the Calder Cup at the end of his last season, but he’s working hard behind the scenes to make sure the AHL is set up well for a return to the ice in 2020-21. One of the most well-regarded executives in the game, and for good reason. Godspeed.

Loser: “Hockey culture”

Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull lamented that “the fun is gone” in a discussion with Sportsnet’s “Hockey Central” on Friday about Brendan Leipsic’s sexist and misogynistic comments in a leaked group chat that got him released by the Washington Capitals.

“We did the same things, we said the same things, but there was no way to get caught. We can go out after games, we can go to strip clubs, we can go to bars, and we could do whatever we wanted, and it would all be hearsay. There’s no hearsay anymore. It’ll be on an iPhone,” he said.

For the record, Hull called Leipsic and his cohorts “idiots that should have known better, because that can happen.” So there’s that. He also lamented that pro athletes can’t go out after games in the same manner they used to because of the pervasive nature of modern technology, social media and invasive fans. That’s fair. But Hull then created a false dichotomy, which is that players bring their Xboxes on the road because they can’t go out anymore. “It’s so sad, but it’s the nature of the game: Do you want to go out with everyone’s cellphone on you, or do you want to make sure you don’t get in trouble?” he said.

How about this: Guys in their 20s bond over video games and can also leave for some velvet-roped-off bar if they so desire. Crazy, right?

But the biggest problem with Hull’s comments were the ultimate context, which is that “the fun is gone” because you never know when “the fun” might leak into public discourse. Look, if “the fun” is sexist or misogynistic or homophobic, and that gets out, the players not only have to answer for it but could lose their spots because if it. That’s not how it was with “the fun” back in Hull’s day, but thankfully this antiseptic sunshine lighting up the toxic sludge of hockey culture will eventually make the sport “fun” for more people, from a variety of demographics, who don’t find any of this stuff “fun” but more causes for why the sport seems repellant to them.

Winner: Washington Capitals

The swiftness of their rebuke of Leipsic’s leaked Instagram messages was commendable, as was their decision to release him. Rather than praise the move, many questioned whether they would have done the same for a better player. It’s a worthy hypothetical, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that there are more grunts like Leipsic on rosters and in the minors than stars like Alex Ovechkin, and this example serves all of them notice to be better.

Loser: The “good old days”

Globe & Mail columnist Cathal Kelly’s piece on the Leipsic situation traffics in the worst kind of “Canadian exceptionalism” stereotypes.

It’s an impressive feat to cram explanations for hockey’s growth, demographic, marketing, personality and cultural problems into one paragraph, and then summarily ignore their consequences.

Winner: Blackhawks and Rangers

The NHL is currently focused on a 24-team playoff in a season restart, which would expand the postseason to include the Rangers (.564 points percentage) and Blackhawks (.514) and their nationwide fan bases that would have nothing else better to do than watch them compete in the NHL postseason. Unless, of course, the NHL does something bonkers and adopts that “divisional” playoff format that’s been discussed, where the Sabres (.493) and Ducks (.472) are seeded in play-in series instead.

Loser: Minnesota Wild

According to Michael Russo of The Athletic, the NHL has informed the Minnesota Wild that there is likely “zero chance” that their top prospect Kirill Kaprizov will be permitted to make his NHL debut this summer if the 2019-20 season resumes. “But when the NHL suspended this season March 12, the league instructed teams that no contracts for draft picks or college, junior and European free agents could be signed with a start date of this current season” he wrote.

Why he can’t jump into an extended postseason and have a Cale Makar-like impact for Minnesota is just baffling.

Puck headlines

  • Sidney Crosby on a 24-team playoff: “I’d prefer that. There’s so many factors, right. The safety of players is No. 1, and if you’re able to establish that then you want to keep the integrity of what the playoffs have been for a long, long time. It’s difficult to win the Stanley Cup, and you want to win it the right way and that’s four best four-out-of-seven series, so that’s how we know it. In a time like this, we’re all open to ideas and formats and things like that, but you hope we can keep that.”

  • Pavel Datsyuk wants to keep playing. Alas, it appears that would be in the KHL.

  • Good chat with NHL content boss Steve Mayer, including whether we could see a documentary like “The Last Dance” on Alex Ovechkin in 20 years

  • What if the Philadelphia Flyers hadn’t cut ties with Eric Lindros after the 2000-01 season? “With Lindros back in the fold, instead of wasting away with Mark Messier and the Rangers, we could have a line of Lindros, Simon Gagne, and Mark Recchi. You could also put Jeremy Roenick or John LeClair with him as well. You would have one of the most dominant lines in hockey.”

  • The St. Louis Blues president and CEO of business operations thinks his city should be a hub arena for the restart. “There will be some [markets] that would be more difficult to play in based on the level of the virus. So yes, we have shown interest and have provided the league with different scenarios and insights around our buildings and how and why we think we’d be a fantastic hub city in the event that that happens.”

  • In case you missed it, this incendiary report by The Victory Press on the NWHL’s problems with facilities and general treatment of players burned up the web this week. “There was no bathroom. Once you had your skates and equipment on, you couldn’t access the lobby bathrooms. So a lot of players, including myself, we had to pee in a trashcan before practice, once you had your equipment on, because there was just no way you could get to a toilet.”

  • Switzerland has announced a 350 million Swiss franc ($362 million) rescue package for its professional soccer and ice hockey leagues, but insists the money should not be used to pay wages to high-earning players.

  • Can EA Sports’ NHL 20 increase your hockey IQ?

  • The first openly gay male hockey player believes that the NHL is hypocritical to condemn Brendan Leipsic without changing its culture. “It would be very easy to take a fringe player, cancel him, and then go, ‘See, we don’t tolerate that,’ and then not do any of the work to actually evolve the culture and educate players at the NHL level and grassroots up to actually shift it so players aren’t using these words in conversations amongst each other, in locker rooms, in group chats, or anywhere.”

Hockey tl;dr

  • Diving face-first into the mystery of Jamie Benn, the Stars’ unknowable captain.

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

  • Chris Peters’s ranking of the top 100 draft prospects, and there’s actually a goalie who could go in the top 10!

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Capitals’ Brendan Leipsic apologizes for ‘inappropriate and offensive’ Instagram messages

Washington Capitals forward Brendan Leipsic apologized Wednesday for 'inappropriate and offensive' comments he made in Instagram messages that had been leaked online. 

"Yesterday my friend's Instagram was hacked and an individual circulated images that are representative of private conversations I was a part of," Leipsic, 25, wrote in a message posted to Twitter.

"I fully recognize how inappropriate and offensive these comments are and sincerely apologize to everyone for my actions. I am committed to learning from this and becoming a better person by taking time to determine how to move forward in an accountable, meaningful way. I am truly sorry." 

pic.twitter.com/A0nzLKctnc

Leipsic's messages reposted to social media criticized and mocked former teammates – and some current ones – and also featured many misogynistic messages. His verified Instagram account, @leipah, has been deactivated. 

"We are aware of the unacceptable and offensive comments made by Brendan Leipsic in a private conversation on social media. We will handle this matter internally," the Capitals had said in a statement prior to Leipsic's apology. 

Leipsic was drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft. The Canadian has suited up for five different NHL teams, and is in the midst of his first season with the Capitals. He had three goals and eight assists in 61 games before the coronavirus-caused suspension of the NHL season in March. 

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Swedish NHL players raise concerns by reportedly skating during quarantine

While the rest of the world took serious steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Sweden stood firm.

The Scandinavian country has broken the trend of nearly every other European and North American country by allowing schools, restaurants, bars and other businesses to stay open despite the pandemic. The results are still open to debate, but, at least for now, the policy remains in place. 

Among the many facilities that have stayed open are ice rinks, allowing some Swedish NHL players to continue to skate despite the rest of the league being cooped up at home. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported on “Insider Trading” last week that Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson is one of several Swedes that has been skating amid the pandemic. He said it hasn’t gone down well with a few other NHL players.

“I can tell you, there are some NHL players in North America who do not like the idea given the competitive edge you might see,” he said. 

Anaheim Ducks defenseman Michael Del Zotto agreed, saying the players that are skating will have a big advantage when the NHL does resume activities.

“I know things are normal [in Sweden],” he said on Toronto 1050’s ‘First Up with Landsberg and Colaiacovo’ last week. “It’s very different [there] and they’re going to have an advantage. I didn’t know about the skating side, so now they’re going to have an even bigger advantage. If you take the skating away from it, even just training there are a lot of guys that are in a tough spot, guys that are in small condos.

“So these players in Sweden have a huge advantage.”

Apart from simply helping players keep the rust off, Del Zotto added that being able to have time on the ice will play a big part in preventing injuries when hockey does return. 

“If this goes on two months, three months and we get into August and we plan on coming back; to be off the ice for three or four months, even in a normal circumstance, that doesn’t happen,” he said. “When you have a normal offseason you take off a month or whatever and you slowly get back into it, so these guys are going to have a huge advantage not just as far as being ready to play but healthwise as well.” 

Last week, Petterson’s teammate Jacob Markstrom spoke to reporters on a video call from his hometown of Gavle, Sweden, and noted that the country is running fairly normally. He’s staying home as much as he can, though, and he actually left his equipment back in Vancouver.

Markstrom traveled back home to Sweden about three weeks prior to the call after rehabbing a knee injury; players who were injured have been allowed to continue their rehabilitation at their team’s facilities — including getting onto the ice. He also told reporters that he’s working with a trainer but is trying to be careful, as he doesn’t want to get sick or pass it on to anyone.

As the number of confirmed cases continues to grow in Sweden, player health does start to become an issue. Dreger said the league will continue to monitor the situation overseas. 

“What happens when these players are welcomed back to North America? No doubt about it, these players will be quarantined, and there are some guys who believe that the players will also face mandatory NHL testing,” he said. 

Of course, the players are well within their rights to take advantage of rinks bring open as long as the country allows it. As Dreger noted, the NHL’s advice for players to quarantine was a recommendation, not a directive. However, as confirmed COVID-19 cases rise in Sweden, there are growing calls to shut down many public facilities. It remains to be seen whether Swedish players will be able to continue skating as the league edges closer to announcing a return date. 

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Canucks’ Alex Edler spending part of quarantine watching 2011 highlights

The 2011 Stanley Cup Final will live long in the memory of Vancouverites, for all the wrong reasons. But the Canucks’ playoff run that year did have some highlights, although they’re overshadowed by the disappointing Final loss. 

Alex Edler was a part of that team that came painfully close to lifting the Stanley Cup. With the hockey world still shut down because of the coronavirus, the veteran defenseman has been reliving some of the happier moments from the team’s 2011 postseason — including the Canucks’ first-round series against the Blackhawks.

“Actually, this was a couple of weeks ago, I watched Game 7 of that series,” he told reporters in a video call Wednesday. “I’ve seen a little bit, but not much. It was kind of interesting to see that game. You know, you have all the memories from it then. There were a lot of things that I didn’t remember but then I saw it kind of came back, so it was pretty cool to watch it again.”

After surging to a 3-0 lead in the series, the Canucks lost three straight to force a decisive game. It took more than 65 minutes of hockey, but Alex Burrows finally scored an overtime goal to send Vancouver into the second round. 

One reporter asked Edler if he remembered teammate Kevin Bieksa “losing his mind” during the first intermission in Game 5.

“Not really,” he responded. “He did that all the time, so, no.” 

Even after rewatching Game 7, the Swede has no idea how his team let Chicago back into the series.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “We obviously were seeded No. 1 (in the West) and they kind of snuck in at No. 8, but you knew what they had done the previous years, especially against us. I think we were ready for it and we went up three-nothing. I don’t know if we maybe thought, ‘We’re gonna win this’ … The fourth win, that’s the hardest one, and they kind of came back and showed how good they are.”

As for this season, Edler, now a 34-year-old elder statesman, has been happy with how he has played. 

“I think I’ve had a good season so far,” he said. “I had that injury [an upper-body injury that sidelined him for three weeks], which seems to always happen at some point. But I think I played pretty good hockey. Early on, I played a lot, and [then] my ice time went down a little bit, but not too much.” 

That drop in playing time is the result of several young defensemen entering the lineup and performing well. Despite seeing the ice less than usual, Edler is pleased with the team’s improvements on the blue line.

“I think that has to do with our D corps,” he said. “It’s been better than in previous years, with [Tyler] Myers coming in and then obviously Quinn [Hughes] coming in. So I think it’s been a better balance there, and we’ve been more successful as a team. I think it’s been it’s been a good year so far.” 

Even with the remainder of the 2019-20 season hanging in the balance, Edler is focusing more on the crisis at hand than any potential return to hockey.

“As much as I want to be back and to play and to fight for a playoff spot and be in the playoffs, right now we’re just trying to get through this time,” he said. “If we can start to open things up, and then players can get back to the facility and train, that’d be great. But there are more important things right now that I think everyone’s thinking about.”

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Kings’ Drew Doughty got the quintessential Secret Santa gift — a stick from nemesis Matthew Tkachuk

Since entering the league in October 2016, Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk has been a known agitator on the ice. From his physical forecheck to front-net presence, he’s established himself as one of the best players in the league at getting under an opponent’s skin — including the Kings veteran defenseman, Drew Doughty.

On The Athletic’s “Point Breakaway” podcast, the Kings’ Ben Hutton discussed the team’s 2019 Secret Santa exchange in which he poked fun at Doughty.

In the holiday spirit, a time when people put their differences aside, Hutton asked Tkachuk if he would sign a hockey stick for Doughty, two longtime nemeses. The Flames winger, of course, loved the idea.

“I got our trainers to do it,” Hutton said on the podcast. “We were flying to Calgary [in early December] when we were doing it [the Secret Santa gift exchange], so it just clicked in my head. I asked our trainers, and once they told Chucky who it was for, he was all for it.”

Hutton’s revelation would be news for Doughty, who was never able to crack anybody on the team to cough up the name of who gifted him a hockey stick from his rival.

“I might be ruining it saying this because he [Doughty] still doesn’t know it’s me,” Hutton said. “It was signed by him and everything. I wrote a little message on it. He [Doughty] was going around the locker room trying to figure out who it was.

“None of the boys were snitching on me so that was pretty good.”

2016-17: The beginning of the rivalry

Doughty and Tkachuk’s feud began in March 2017 when the Flames rookie was hit for a two-game suspension for elbowing Doughty. The two met again 10 days later in Calgary and tempers were still piping hot.

Tkachuk attempted to lay a heavy open-ice hit on Doughty, but the veteran defenseman was able to avoid the hit.

2017-18: Verbal spars

In October 2017, the bad blood between the two reignited when Tkachuk got into a fight with Kings forward Dustin Brown. When Tkhauck entered the penalty box, he also entered a shouting match with Doughty.

2019-20: Rivalry intensifies

Two years later, Doughty led the Kings to a thrilling 4-3 win in Calgary including scoring the game-winner in overtime.

After the game, Doughty said, “As much as I love getting booed every time I touch the puck, you kind of want to shove it in their faces.” The Kings’ assistant captain wanted to put the head-to-head battle to rest.

Tkachuk disagreed as he was readying for their next matchup 11 days later.

In the next meeting, Doughty checked Tkachuk on the boards with the Flames winger responding by taking the legs out underneath Doughty leading to a brawl between the two teams.

While Hutton’s gesture probably won’t bring the two rivals closer together, it certainly led to a great story in the end. We’ll see if Hutton receives any retribution for his “warm” gift to Doughty.

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The Great One vs. The Great Eight Showcase: Live score, highlights, updates from Gretzky-Ovechkin in NHL 20

It’s been over a month since we’ve had any competitive hockey taking place on the ice, but tonight we’ll be able to watch two of the best NHL players of all time go head-to-head on the virtual rink in, The Great One vs. The Great Eight Showcase.

Wayne Gretzky and Alex Ovechkin announced in a joint press release last week that they’ll be facing off in EA Sports’ “NHL 20” to raise funds for two charities: the Edmonton Food Bank and MSE Foundation’s “Feeding the Frontlines” fund based in Washington, D.C.  The matchup will pit the pair in a best-of-three series on Xbox with the games live-streamed on the Capitals’ Twitch channel starting tonight at 8 p.m. ET. 

Ovechkin will be partnering up with John “JohnWayne” Casagranda, a member of the Capitals esports team and the runner-up at the 2019 NHL Gaming World Championship, while Gretzky will team up with his 19-year-old son, Tristan. 

Sporting News has all the action as The Great One and The Great Eight square off. 

The Great One vs. The Great Eight Showcase scores, highlights from NHL 20 matchup

(All times Eastern.)
 

First Game

8:45 p.m. — And just as I say that, the Oilers score the game-winning goal. Gretzky is stoked, while Ovi is clearly not happy. Gretzky has requested a two-minute break before the next game starts. It’ll give us some time to digest the thrilling game we just saw play out. Meanwhile, the charitable donations have surpassed the $12,500 mark. If the next game is anywhere as good as the first hopefully fans will help keep that number rising. 

8:42 p.m. — Gretzky’s running commentary has been easily one of the best parts of this game — and it’s been a good game, too. Still tied 4-4. The format will be continuous overtime until someone scores.

8:34 p.m. — OVECHKIN HAS SCORED WITH TWO SECONDS LEFT ON THE CLOCK TO SEND IT INTO OVERTIME. Not only that, but his team was also shorthanded on a five-on-three. What an incredible first game this has been. 

8:30 p.m. — The Oilers have tied it once again! It was Kevin McClelland with the goal. Even in ‘NHL 20’, his 80’s mullet is breathtaking. AND THE GRETZKY’S HAVE SCORED AGAIN! Two goals in no time at all to snatch back the lead. It’s 4-3 Edmonton with just two minutes left. 

8:27 p.m. — The Gretzky’s think they just tied the game, but the referee waves it off due to goalie interference! Gretzky is furious. “Where’s the challenge button? How do I challenge?” he asks. The Capitals lead 3-2 with less than ten minutes left. 

8:25 p.m. — Just over a minute into the third, Ovi gives his team the lead with a Nicklas Backstrom goal. “That’s what I’m talking about, Becky!” he screams. Not sure who Becky is, but it was a nice goal nonetheless. 

8:22 p.m. — Team Gretzky nearly scores on a five-on-three shorthanded breakaway but Holtby makes another big save. He’s been outstanding so far this game. A few minutes later, team Ovechkin ties it up once again via an Ilya Kovalchuk goal. It’s 2-2 heading into the final period. “I’m so tired,” Gretzky quips.

8:17 p.m. — Gretzky’s son, Tristan, is starting to get annoyed at his father’s lack of faceoff wins. “Faceoffs don’t matter,” Gretzky replies. “When you’re 60 years old it’s hard to see the TV.” 

8:15 p.m. — Despite the Gretzky’s continued domination, Ovechkin has tied it up on a breakaway. The score is 1-1 heading into the second period. But wait, the Gretzky’s have scored again! Just a few minutes into the second period. They now lead 2-1. 

8:10 p.m. — Gretzky has scored! And with who else but his own in-game character. Wayne is absolutely ecstatic. “If you go to the net, good things happen,” he says. The Oilers lead 1-0 with less than 6 minutes left in the first period.

8:09 p.m. — The puck drops and IMMEDIATELY the Gretzky’s are all over Ovi and JohnWayne. Holtby has been forced to make at least three good saves to keep things tied at 0-0. “We’re playing for the pride of all of Canada right now,” Gretzky says. You’re giving a good account of yourself so far, Wayne. 

Pregame

8:04 p.m. — The stream is now underway. Gretzky, who has a solid crowd of fans supporting him from his home, declares “I’m awful at this.” Ovi, who was holding his son Sergei, initially leaves his microphone on mute before telling us he’s excited. Gretzky says he’s “so nervous.” This should be interesting. 

7:41 p.m. — Not much is known about the gaming skills of either of these players. Ovi is apparently more of a ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Fortnite’ fan, while Gretzky has played ‘NHL 20’ before but only a handful of times. Ovechkin’s teammate, John “JohnWayne” Casagranda, definitely has the upper hand in terms of skill over everyone else though. He was the runner-up at the 2019 NHL Gaming World Championship.

7:22 p.m. — Was there really any other choice?

7:21 p.m. — Did Ovechkin get any sleep?

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Gretzky optimistic NHL will resume this summer

Wayne Gretzky is optimistic the NHL will be able to resume at some point this summer.

Gretzky told The Associated Press on Sunday he’s hopeful hockey and other sports will be able to come back from the coronavirus pandemic and serve as a positive sign that conditions are improving.

“I really believe somehow, someway, that the leadership in this country and in Canada, that we’re going to figure this out,” Gretzky said. “And I really believe that we’ll see hockey and some sort of other sports in June, July and August, albeit in a different way, but I really see it coming to fruition. I think it’s going to happen.”

Gretzky, who holds the records for goals, assists and points, is self-quarantining in California and trying to help the NHL with content during its pause for the pandemic. He and Alex Ovechkin recently taped their first joint interview to air Monday, and they’ll play the NHL20 video game against each other Wednesday.

The league is considering several options on trying to resume this season, including going directly to the playoffs at several neutral sites. Gretzky believes the NHL will find a way.

“Maybe I’m wrong,” he said. “Maybe I’m too optimistic. I think I’m not. I hope that that’s a good sign for everyone that we’re moving on in life, in business, in sports. I really see in the next couple months something good happening.”

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