The headlines were plentiful around the NHL last week. So plentiful, in fact, that I had to change the title of my column three times because major things kept happening. We had a number one goalie opt-out of the playoffs mid-series, the draft lottery winner was revealed, and we saw a game go into five overtimes. Keep reading to catch up on all the news around the NHL.
1. Tuukka Rask Opts Out of Playoffs
Two hours before game three of their first-round matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes, Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask opted out of the season. Rask cited wanting to be with his family during this difficult time.
Before I say anything, it’s important that we all respect Rask’s decision. I’m sure it’s tough if you’re a fan of the Bruins. But, this is a scary time for all of us and we have to remember that these players are locked in a bubble and could be away from their families for months. Many of them have young children that need them at home. I completely respect Rask’s decision and I can’t imagine how tough it was for him to make.
For the Bruins, if any team can win it all without their number one goaltender it’s them. They have arguably the best backup goalie left in the playoffs in Jaroslav Halak. Halak has been one of the better goalies in the NHL since his early days in St. Louis and is probably good enough to start for a number of teams left in the playoffs. Halak finished this season 18-6-6 record, 2.39 GAA, .919 sv%, and three shutouts in 31 games.
Make no mistake, Rask is the better goalie and without him, the Bruins are not better off. Rask was arguably the second-best goalie left in the bubble after Carey Price. I feel bad for Rask because his legacy needs a Stanley Cup as bad as anyone. He’s 0-2 in both Stanley Cup Finals he’s started and is his play is always compared to Tim Thomas’ run when Boston won it all in 2011. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves because he was great during both of those playoff runs and was one win away from putting those demons to rest last year.
Those demons won’t be slain this year. For Bruins nation, they should hope that Halak can play as well as he did during the 2010 playoffs when he led Montreal to the Eastern Conference Finals. Thankfully for Halak, he has one of the best teams in the league playing in front of him.
2. Rangers Hit the Jackpot
It’s official, the New York Rangers own the first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. That also includes the opportunity to draft Alexis Lafrenière, who is widely regarded as the best player available. Front offices around the league have been salivating over his talent for years now.
I have two major thoughts on this. I’m bitter as hell because the Red Wings were far and away the worst team in the league and deserved the number one pick. I understand the point of the lottery, but the point of the draft is to give the worst teams in the league an opportunity to get better. The Wings won’t get the chance they deserve. The Red Wings were 23 points behind the next-closest team in the NHL. That’s 23 points behind the 30th worst team in the league. 23 points! They were outrageously bad! The Rangers were right in the middle of the pack when it came to points %. They were tied for 17th in the league with a .564 points %. It’s criminal that Detroit fell to fourth in the draft. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.
If there is any winner in this, besides the obvious Rangers, it’s the NHL. They must be salivating thinking about a potential superstar playing 41 home games a year in Madison Square Garden. The NHL needs more star power in big cities. There hasn’t been a major star in NYC since Mark Messier in the mid-90s. Yes, I know Gretzky played for the Rangers at the end of his career but he wasn’t dominating as he did. The league needs budding young superstars in big markets and this could be a huge opportunity for the NHL and the Rangers. With the Rangers’ rebuild coming towards its end, Lafrenière could be playing meaningful games very soon.
3. Did Someone Ask for More OTs?
If this season’s playoffs are remembered for anything other than the Coronavirus, it will be game one of the first-round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets. The game ended with 10:27 left in the fifth overtime! It was the fourth-longest game in NHL history. By the way, these two teams were ten minutes shy of playing the equivalent of three full games in one night! This game went so long they had to postpone the late game (Boston vs. Carolina) in Toronto and reschedule it for the next day.
I was lucky I was scrolling Twitter and saw tweets about the game. I turned it on right before the fourth OT started so I still got some decent action in. The story of this game was Blue Jackets’ goalie, Joonas Korpisalo, who made 85 saves on 88 shots. That’s 12 more saves than the previous record. It’s too bad the Jackets lost or Korpisalo would be a legend forever with the way he played.
Tampa’s goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, was no slouch either. We did win the game after all. He also made 61 saves on 63 shots. But, the hero of the game was Brayden Point. Point scored two goals in the game including the game-winner. Point was so tired after the game that he could barely get through his post-game press conference, panting throughout the entire thing.
What’s even more impressive is that Columbus fought hard and won game two in the series. Props to them for powering through and not letting the loss of game one alter their focus. Tampa did win game three and is now up 2-1 in the series.
4. Bob McKenzie to Slow Down in the Scoop Game
The King of NHL scoops is giving up his crown. Last week, super-reporter Bob McKenzie announced his semi-retirement. Even though he signed a five-year extension with TSN recently, he will not be chasing scoops the way he has in the past. You can see McKenzie’s statement below:
Thank you. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/wJisCYt7eW
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) August 10, 2020
I’m happy for McKenzie. Everything I’ve read or seen from him has always been professional and classy. It’s also a baller move to retire before you get knocked off. He was the scoop king until he retired and no one can take that away from him. I wish him the best in his retirement.
P.S.: Gotta love the notes app announcement.
5. Lindblom Extended in Philly
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Here’s a bit of good news for you. Oskar Lindblom, who missed a large part of the season due to cancer treatments, earned an extension with the Philadelphia Flyers. The extension is for three years and will carry an AAV of $3 million.
Lindblom was in the middle of his best season when he was diagnosed with cancer. Through 30 games he had scored 11 goals and added seven assists. Had he played a full 82 game season, he was on pace to score 30 goals. It’s a shame his diagnoses came in a contract year. He surely would have netted more money if he had played the entire year. Still, it’s a classy move by the Flyers to reward him with a nice extension after missing most of the season.
Also, seeing as it’s only a three-year deal, Lindblom can always go back to the negotiating table in two years. So, if he continues to develop, he can cash in. This is a great deal for the Flyers, too. They surprised everyone this season and wound up the number one seed in the East. With Lindblom locked up for another few years, I’m expecting them to keep challenging for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. ■