When the Vancouver Canucks bowed out to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinal Friday, Canada’s Stanley Cup drought officially hit 27 years.
Six of the country’s seven markets were part of the NHL’s 24-team restart after the season was brought to a screeching halt by COVID-19 in March, but only the Canucks, Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames survived the qualifying round.
Montreal, the last Canadian franchise to capture the title all the way back in 1993, and Calgary subsequently bowed out in the first round, while Vancouver beat the defending champion St. Louis Blues before having its hopes dashed by Vegas.
Without knowing when the 2020-21 campaign will begin because of the pandemic — the NHL would like to get rolling Dec. 1, but that could be overly optimistic — and a salary cap set to stay flat for the foreseeable future, The Canadian Press takes a look at what’s facing clubs north of the 49th parallel in an unusual off-season.
After another disappointing playoff performance, big changes could be on the way in Calgary. The Flames came together in the wake of head coach Bill Peters’ resignation following racism and physical abuse allegations levied against him by former players in November. Interim coach Geoff Ward guided Calgary to victory over the Winnipeg Jets in the qualifying round before the team imploded against the Dallas Stars, allowing seven straight goals against after going up 3-0 in a decisive Game 6.
General manager Brad Treliving will have to determine Ward’s future, but also those of centre Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, who could both be traded. The crease also remains a question mark, with goalie Cam Talbot poised to hit unrestricted free agency, while David Rittich has one year left on his deal.
The Oilers made strides in their first season under head coach Dave Tippett and GM Ken Holland, but it’s clear a roster led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl still requires substantial upgrades. Edmonton had the NHL’s best power play and No. 2-ranked penalty kill in 2019-20, but needs more from its supporting cast.
Like their provincial rivals in Calgary, the Oilers have to address goaltending The two-headed monster of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen was adequate during the regular season, but let the team down in Edmonton’s four-game loss in the qualifying round. The good news for the Oilers and other teams looking for goalies? Plenty are set to become available on the open market.
There were a lot of positives for the Canadiens this summer. Limping towards the end of a lost season when COVID-19 hit, Montreal was the final team included in the restart. Led by veterans Carey Price and Shea Weber, the Canadiens upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifiers, and were the better club for much of their six-game defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Where GM Marc Bergevin goes from here will be interesting after trading for backup goalie Jake Allen earlier this week.
Montreal’s old guard showed it has plenty left in the tank, while young centres Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi showed they belong in the top-six of an NHL lineup. The Canadiens will have to figure out what to do with forward Max Domi, who led the team in scoring in 2018-19, but had a difficult season and is set to become a restricted free agent.
The only Canadian team not involved in the restart, the Senators are poised to select third and fifth at the NHL draft. It’s been a rough three years in the nation’s capital, but Ottawa is primed to snag some top-end talent. The Senators are poised to get a centre in Quinton Byfield or Tim Stutzle at No. 3 — a selection they acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade with San Jose — and will pluck another blue-chip prospect two spots later in a deep draft class.
GM Pierre Dorion should be busy with only four NHL forwards currently on the roster, while there’s another decision to make in goal with veteran Craig Anderson poised to hit free agency — if he doesn’t retire — and Anders Nilsson only signed through 2021.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs, who were ousted in the qualifying round by the Columbus Blue Jackets, made the off-season’s first big move when GM Kyle Dubas traded winger Kasperi Kapanen to Pittsburgh as part of a package that included the No. 15 pick in the draft, a prospect and provided some much-needed salary cap space. The last part is perhaps the most important as Toronto looks to upgrade its blue-line. The Leafs need to shed more salary to find that elusive top-four right-shot defenceman, but the Kapanen swap was a start.
It’s unlikely Toronto moves any of its stars up front in Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, but middle-six forwards Alexander Kerfoot and Andreas Johnsson could fit the bill. Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen has one year left on his contract, but there have been rumblings he could be on the move.
The Canucks took a massive leap forward even before the NHL was forced to suspend its schedule. Elias Pettersson confirmed he’s an elite centre, rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes could snag the Calder Trophy, and captain Bo Horvat showed he’s more than capable of leading on and off the ice. Vancouver GM Jim Benning will, however, have to make some difficult manoeuvring under the stagnate cap.
No. 1 goalie Jacob Markstrom is a pending unrestricted free agent, but what does Thatcher Demko’s heroic performance against Vegas do to change the Canucks’ thought process? Vancouver, which continues to pay its bottom-six forward group far too much, also has to keep in mind Pettersson and Hughes will be due significant raises after next season.
The Jets defence corps was decimated last summer by the departures of Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba and Ben Chariot before Dustin Byfuglien left the team and eventually had his contract terminated. Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will no doubt look to upgrade the blue-line in front of Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck.
The Jets fell to the Flames in the qualifying round, but were without injured forwards Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine for much of the series. One player to watch is Laine, who’s entering the final year of his bridge contract. Could he wind up being the trade piece that helps bolster Winnipeg’s back end?
Khudobin proves resilient on road to Stanley Cup Final as Stars goalie – NHL.com
Now, after playing for 13 professional teams in five leagues and three countries over the past 14 seasons, Khudobin finds himself in the Stanley Cup Final with the Dallas Stars, three wins from his first championship.
“When I was growing up, I was thinking it was my dream to play in NHL. I didn’t think that deep, to go and win the Stanley Cup,” the Stars goalie said Friday. “When I got here, I realized it’s not easy to get there, not easy to get to the Final. So, then I start thinking it would be a great accomplishment to get there at some point and win the Cup.”
[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]
The Stars lead the best-of-7 Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning after a 4-1 win in Game 1 on Saturday. Game 2 is Monday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the Cup Final (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
After being a backup his entire NHL career, the 34-year-old is in a starring role this postseason. With No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop unfit to play for most of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Stars turned to Khudobin, who is 13-6 with a 2.54 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games (19 starts) in the postseason. He was the difference in their Game 1 win, stopping 35 of 36 shots, including all 22 he faced in the third period. He is now 9-0 with a .934 save percentage in the last nine games in which he faced at least 30 shots.
It was certainly a long road from Kazakhstan to the Stanley Cup Final, but Khudobin has left his mark at his many stops, remembered as much for his big personality as his work in goal.
“This guy belongs on [“Late Night with David Letterman”], he belongs on all the shows,” former Dallas Stars goalie and current president of the Stars Foundation Marty Turco said on the NHL @TheRink podcast Wednesday. “He’s such a great interview. That doesn’t make a great goalie, but he’s also a consummate professional and fun and funny. He works so darn hard, he really does, and he’s been on [short-term] deals his whole career.”
Khudobin was selected by the Minnesota Wild in the seventh round (No. 206) of the 2004 NHL Draft. He was then chosen by Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League in the first round (No. 51) of the 2005 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft and played 44 games during the 2005-06 season, going 23-13-3 with a 2.90 GAA, .917 save percentage and four shutouts. Former Saskatoon coach Lorne Molleken said Khudobin was a popular addition on and off the ice.
“He went to school to take English classes, and the people who were picking him up and taking him to school every day, there were times they would pick him up in a limousine to take him to school, drop him off and bring him home,” said Molleken, now director of coach development at Prairie Hockey Academy in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
“He was a lot of fun and he was a great competitor. The first game he played for us was an exhibition game against Medicine Hat (2-1 shootout loss). He faced about 70 shots that night, because we played the whole third period basically facing a 5-on-3. That was his welcome to the Western Hockey League.”
To ease Khudobin’s transition to North America, Molleken arranged for him to live with a billet family, Anna and David Gersher, natives of Moldova, part of the USSR until 1991, who have lived in Canada for more than 30 years.
“He was sure of himself, I could tell that,” Anna said of her first meeting with Khudobin. “People tell me that goalies are like that, they’re always sure of themselves, and he was quite sure of himself. But he spoke only Russian, so we had very interesting conversations. He would come from games, or from meetings with the team, and he would ask me, ‘What did they mean when they said, this or this?’ So I had to figure out what they said first, and then what they mean. My husband and I only had girls, so with the boys, it was a different twist. But he had fun.”
The Gershers also supported Khudobin on tough days. David Gersher remembered Khudobin’s disappointment after Saskatoon lost 4-3 in triple overtime to Medicine Hat in Game 2 of the 2006 WHL Eastern Conference Semifinal, when Khudobin saved 80 of 84 shots.
“I told him, ‘Listen, not every day is going to be rain. There will be sun, too. Just keep going, do your thing,'” David said. “And here [he is], playing for the Stanley Cup. He put a lot of effort in himself and that’s why he’s where he is today.”
After one season with Saskatoon, Khudobin played with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Russian Superleague in 2006-07 before returning to North America. He largely played in the minor leagues the next four seasons, with Houston and Providence in the American Hockey League, and Texas and Florida in the ECHL.
He played six games (four starts) for the Wild from 2010-11 before they traded him to the Boston Bruins on Feb. 28, 2011. Stars player development coordinator Rich Peverley, Khudobin’s teammate in Boston from 2011-13, said the young goalie, a Black Ace in the 2011 playoffs when Boston won the Stanley Cup, learned a valuable lesson with the Bruins.
“He changed his approach on nutrition, and I remember the next year he came back and was in phenomenal shape,” said Peverley, who became close with Khudobin and regularly played cards with him. “When you’re around [defenseman Zdeno] Chara and [forward Patrice] Bergeron and knowing the way they ate, then you’re a Black Ace and you see this and think, ‘OK, I’m in the AHL, what can I do to get to the NHL?’ Anton took that advice and transformed his game. Two years later, he was our backup and he was outstanding for us. Just like in Dallas, with him going in, you knew he was going to help you when you were going to battle.”
Khudobin said he benefitted both from watching the Bruins’ 2011 run and being the backup to Tuukka Rask when they lost the 2013 Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
“I was learning from the practices, how they were preparing for the games,” he said Friday. “That was an unbelievable experience. It was a time to realize how hard it is to get here, how hard it is to win the Cup.”
Khudobin left the Bruins as an unrestricted free agent and signed a one-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes on July 5, 2013 and then a two-year contract March 4, 2014. He was 27-31-7 with a 2.50 GAA, .914 save percentage and 11 shutouts in 70 games (66 starts) over two seasons with the Hurricanes.
Former Carolina goaltending coach David Marcoux said Khudobin was always competitive, be it playing Marcoux in Ping-Pong — “I didn’t have too many wins against him,” Marcoux said — or wanting more starts with the Hurricanes.
“He would be very vocal, even around Cam Ward, who was the No. 1 goalie for forever in Carolina, in terms of, ‘Why don’t I play more Dave? When am I going to play more?’ This is facing myself and Cam Ward,” said Marcoux, who now runs a goaltending school in Calgary. “[Ward] and I would look at each other and say, ‘Well, this is kind of awkward.’ He’s a guy who you knew when he was around the room because you could hear him. He’s not a quiet backup, never seeing himself as a simple backup. Back a few years ago, you had No. 1 goalies and you had backups, and he kind of bucked that trend.”
Marcoux said most of his work with Khudobin in Carolina focused on improved communication with teammates and puck-handling skills around the trapezoid area.
“You can’t win a Stanley Cup because of your puck-handling skills but you can lose a Stanley Cup because of your puck-handling skills. To do less sometimes, you can accomplish more,” Marcoux said. “That aspect of his game was not something that was very used prior to him coming to Carolina, and I think we did a very good job at improving his puck-handling skills but at the same time improving his communication skills and reading the forecheck coming at him when he’s behind the net.”
Khudobin was traded to the Anaheim Ducks on June 27, 2015 and then returned to the Bruins to again back up Rask, signing a two-year contract as a UFA on July 1, 2016. He then signed another two-year contract, this time with the Stars, on July 1, 2018.
“I wish it was a five-year-deal now, it would’ve been nice,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said Tuesday. “But good for Anton. He’s earned this right and I hope we can get him back because he’s a big part of our team, as we’ve witnessed. As far as his personality, it’s infectious. He fits into any room, he’s a battler and he never gives up.”
Khudobin played an NHL career-high 41 games (37 starts) with the Stars in 2018-19. He was 16-8-4 with a 2.22 GAA and .930 save percentage in 30 games (26 starts) this season.
Stars forward Tyler Seguin, Khudobin’s teammate with the Bruins from 2011-13, said the goalie reminds him of Tim Thomas, who helped the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011 and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in those playoffs.
“[Khudobin] has always been that goalie in practice that you don’t like shooting on, because you’re not going to score much,” Seguin said. “He has the experience from seeing all that, from us being together in that organization. There’s a lot to learn from that organization. They’re winners, they’ve been to the Final so many times. We were a part of that a couple of times, so [Khudobin has] got that experience. He’s coming into his own. He’s competitive, he works hard and he gets the job done.”
Khudobin also has that big personality. After the Stars defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in overtime in Game 5 to win the Western Conference Final on Sept. 14, Khudobin put a large, Stars-branded necklace on and screamed, “We’re not going home!” After a 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators at the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, Khudobin did a running slide into the team picture, landing on his right side and holding his left leg in the air.
Turco (5-foot-11, 184 pounds) also likes that Khudobin (5-11, 195) is “bringing back the shorter goalies.”
“He’s got some quick feet. I’d like to see us in our primes together, who’s quicker,” Turco said. “He’s pretty stocky, super strong and really flexible. We’ve seen him do multiple splits. He battles for the ground he needs to have. I want him to flip his hand over and move the puck more efficiently, but I think I lost that fight a while ago. He’s an old dog, but his game doesn’t have too many flaws and holes. Once in a while, like we all do, you can’t see the puck and you retreat a little bit. It’s a subconscious thing that happens. Otherwise, he’s out there battling.”
He’s battled his way to going 99-76-25 with a 2.46 GAA, .919 save percentage and eight shutouts in 218 NHL games, largely as a backup. And now as the starter, he is battling to win his first Stanley Cup championship, which would be the first for the Stars since a six-game victory against the Buffalo Sabres in 1999.
“[Khudobin’s] time in now, and you just never know how long your career is going to keep up,” Marcoux said. “At 34, you don’t need a rocket scientist to know the down slope is near. But he’s in extremely good shape. He’s an undersized goalie by NHL standards, but in terms of belief, he’s an oversized goalie.”
Watch: Frustrated Danny Lee 6-putts from 4 feet then withdraws from U.S. Open – Golf Channel
Danny Lee withdrew after a third-round 78 at the 120th U.S. Open, citing a wrist injury. But it wasn’t a pained shot from Winged Foot’s luscious rough that appeared to be the catalyst for the WD.
Lee was 3 over par for the round, facing a 4-foot par putt on the par-4 18th to finish the day. He missed that on the left side and then missed the comebacker for bogey. Lee then frustratingly ping-ponged his ball from one side of the hole to the other before eventually six-putting and making an quintuple-bogey 9.
Lee signed for his 78 and then called it a championship.
Lee withdraws from U.S. Open after 18th hole meltdown – Yahoo Canada Sports
(Reuters) – New Zealand golfer Danny Lee withdrew from the U.S. Open citing a wrist injury after a disastrous finish to his third round on Saturday left him 13 strokes behind leader Matthew Wolff.
Lee fired rounds of 70 and 75 to make the cut at an unforgiving Winged Foot but carded an eight-over par 78 in the third round as his campaign unravelled spectacularly.
Lee was three over heading into the par-four 18th but six-putted from four feet to sign off with a quintuple bogey nine.
The 30-year-old missed putts from four feet, five feet, five feet, six feet and three feet before finally holing from seven feet and announcing his withdrawal shortly after.
(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)
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