The NHL has begun winnowing its possible locations to resume the season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but all three potential Canadian cities are still in the running.
The Blue Jackets were informed Monday that Columbus will not be one of the NHL’s hub cities. Columbus was one of 10 finalists, including seven in the U.S.
Las Vegas is now considered the U.S. favourite to host NHL playoff games, unless two Canadian cities are selected. Canada’s federal government last week said it would allow the league to quarantine internally, making Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton realistic possibilities — if not the front-runners.
The NHL has said it will select two hub cities — one for the Eastern Conference playoffs and one for the Western Conference. The Stanley Cup Final or “final four” would likely be in one of the two cities.
NHL training camps make for 'strange time' on first day – NHL.com
“This isn’t training camp,” New York Rangers coach David Quinn said.
Technically it’s Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play Plan and it signifies the training camp portion, but it was evident on Day One that these camps will be nothing like the ones players, coaches, executives and fans have come to know.
With 13 days before the teams travel to the two hub cities — the 12 Eastern Conference teams will be based in Toronto, the 12 Western Conference teams in Edmonton — for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, this is a ramp-up to the main event, not the typical six-month prelude to it.
“We’re getting ready for [Stanley Cup] Playoffs,” Calgary Flames coach Geoff Ward said. “You can call the first round whatever you want, it’s playoffs. It’s a series against one team (Calgary plays the Winnipeg Jets). We’re looking at five rounds of playoffs for us to have an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. That’s what we’re focused on. Guys have put the regular season away. Instead of preparing for a new year, we’re prepping for playoff hockey.”
It begins Aug. 1 with the Qualifiers, the start of Phase 4. The top four teams in each conference based on points percentage will play against each other in a three-game round-robin to determine each conference’s top four seeds for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The remaining eight teams in each conference will play best-of-5 series to determine who advances to the playoffs.
The losers of the eight best-of-5 series will each have an equal chance of winning the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, which will be conducted Aug. 10, the day before the playoffs begin.
Before any of that happens, the 24 teams returning to play after the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus have to get their games back up to speed, find chemistry, or rediscover it, and make decisions about starting goalies and depth players.
But most importantly, the players have to get reacquainted with their teammates and their jobs. That began in earnest Monday after players had been voluntary working out in small groups at team facilities since Phase 2 began June 8. It was a welcome change.
“It’s weird, it feels like we’ve been gone for a long time, then all of a sudden you get back out on the ice with the guys again and it just felt like three or four months went by like that,” Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “It’s definitely weird to be here in July, getting into a little minicamp, but good to be around the boys for a couple of days. It’s been a strange time for everyone, but at least that felt somewhat normal.”
There were strict health and safety protocols to follow — there is testing for COVID-19 every other day, and symptom and temperature checks at facilities and at home — trainers and some coaches wore masks, and sessions with the media were conducted virtually. But teams did everything they could to make a hockey practice feel like a hockey practice.
“It’s a good feeling just to have a real practice with coaches on the ice,” Jets forward Mathieu Perreault said. “The last few days we skated with just the guys, and to then actually having a coach running the practice, the whistle, a guy scoring goals and cheering, it was actually a fun day today to get back on the ice and back to work.”
It went better than most players and coaches expected, with things being smoothly managed on and off the ice, from the testing protocols to simply moving the puck around, connecting on passes, and pushing hard with some contact drills.
“To be honest, we were surprised with how sharp and on-point the execution was,” Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “I think a lot of people were going to expect rust, but guys looked sharp, guys looked in shape. The execution was high, and to be honest, it was a great first day.”
Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet marveled at the energy he saw in practice, and that it continued through a short scrimmage at the end.
“I expected everyone to be gassed halfway through,” Tocchet said, “and guys were hooting and hollering.”
The key, though, will be carrying it into Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and the rest of camp. The ability to do that at a fast pace is a great unknown.
“We can’t kill these guys,” Tocchet said. “We’re asking them to go from zero [mph] to 100 [mph], and how do we get to 100 without burning out the engine?”
For the coaches, there are also big decisions to come, such as who will be the starting goalie. At first glance, at least half of the participating teams do not have a designated No. 1 for their first game, provided everyone is healthy.
Those decisions will come in the next two weeks. Coaches weren’t going to be making them in one day, with one practice, after more than four months off.
But the evaluation of everybody and everything is now officially under way. The countdown to the restart of the season is on.
The NHL is back.
“It was just like the first day of school,” Predators coach John Hynes said.
NHL.com staff writers Tim Campbell, Tracey Myers, Mike G. Morreale and Brian Compton, and correspondents Alan Robinson and Aaron Vickers contributed to this report
'Monster' Ilya Mikheyev looks ready to resume top-six Leafs role – TSN
TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs, who opened their return to play training camp on Monday, practising in two groups at the Ford Performance Centre.
Out since sustaining a significant laceration to his right wrist on Dec. 27, Ilya Mikheyev appears ready to reclaim a role in Toronto’s top-six forward group. The Russian rookie skated alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner on Monday scoring the opening goal of the camp scrimmages.
“He’s been eye-opening to watch,” Marner gushed, “how quick and how much better he’s really gotten. I was talking to [Jake Muzzin] a bit when they were both injured and he kept saying, ‘This Mikheyev is a monster and turning into an animal in the gym and on the ice.'”
Mikheyev picked up 23 points in 39 games before the skate blade of New Jersey Devils forward Jesper Bratt cut him on a freak play leading to surgery to repair an artery and tendons that were severed.
“Skating with him now he’s shooting a lot better, seeing the ice a lot better,” Marner said in a Zoom session with reporters. “From my point of view, in these scrimmages we’ve been playing, he’s been good finding the open ice and that lane for me or JT to find him and he’s not afraid to go to the net either.”
Head coach Sheldon Keefe said Mikheyev looked “excellent” in the Phase 2 sessions noting the 25-year-old has been skating with Muzzin, who was working his way back from a broken knuckle, basically the entire time since the season was paused on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Those guys really haven’t had any time off,” Keefe revealed. “They continued to rehab their injuries and skated all the way through for the most part.”
One area where Mikheyev still needs to improve, though, is his English language skills.
“We’re working on that a little bit,” noted Marner with a grin, “but he’s gotten a lot better. He understands a lot more now, which is great. I’m always just trying to talk to him on the ice and explain things and explain plays and keeping him knowing what I’m going to do and I like to hear his feedback on what he’s trying to do when he goes down the wall and stuff. When you’re on the ice and call for it, he knows [what’s going on] very well and he’s aware of where you are, which is something he’s gotten a lot better with.”
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) July 13, 2020
Nick Robertson skated on a line with Egor Korshkov and Adam Brooks, which means the 18-year-old has a lot of work to do if he plans on cracking the lineup for Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in their best-of-five qualifying round series. And Robertson certainly seemed determined to make an impression on Monday.
“He was working hard trying to get better, that was clear during our scrimmage,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “He’s a guy that’s going to continue to push, that’s just his nature, so it’s always good to have people like that on board.”
Robertson, who lit up the Ontario Hockey League with 55 goals in 46 games with Peterborough last season, was feisty in the scrimmages and drills. On more than one occasion, a veteran player had to look back in annoyance as the five-foot-nine left winger hounded the puck.
“He worked hard,” Keefe said. “I’ve come to expect that from him. He’s another guy that over the last three weeks I’ve been watching in these sessions, we’ve come to get to know him better as a player and his work habits are exceptional.”
“He’s got a tremendous shot and release,” observed John Tavares. “He gets on top of goalies and the puck is around him all the time. Guys like him just have a knack. He has a great head on his shoulders. We’ll do everything we can to help him.”
If Robertson is to steal a spot, it will likely be as the third line left winger. Pierre Engvall filled that role on Monday skating alongside Alex Kerfoot and Kasperi Kapanen.
Nick Robertson vs. Jake Muzzin on the first day of Leafs camp: pic.twitter.com/VKJg8FQvsX
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) July 13, 2020
Auston Matthews confirmed he tested positive for COVID-19 during the season pause, but noted he was “pretty much asymptomatic.”
“Didn’t really hinder my training,” the Leafs centre said in his first media session since April. “I was able to do stuff at home. Obviously, wasn’t able to leave or anything. I think that’s really the only thing that kind of took a hit for me. I was skating beforehand and having to take two and a half, three weeks off obviously kind of catches up to you.”
Most of the Leafs have been skating at the Ford Performance Centre during Phase 2 while Matthews only arrived in the final week leading up to training camp.
“Those guys who have been here the entire time certainly are at a higher level,” said Keefe. “All things considered, Auston’s worked well, worked hard and he’s done what he could given his circumstances and it won’t be long before the conditioning matches up with his ability.”
Matthews seemed gassed at times during the first on-ice workouts of camp, but in fairness the schedule was designed to test player fitness and other guys were also hunched over their sticks. Keefe had the team separated into two groups with only three forward lines in each, which reduced the rest time between drills. And then the scrimmages featured only two forward lines, which further wore down the players.
“A couple weeks of not being able to do much, so kind of out of the norm of a typical training camp where you’re going in there feeling good so it’s going to be a little bit different,” Matthews acknowledged.
Teammates didn’t seem all that concerned, though, with Tavares noting that Matthews has proven to be a fast starter during his NHL career. Matthews opened this season, for example, with seven goals in the first seven games.
Leafs players wore ‘Black Lives Matter’ shirts during off-ice activities on Day 1 of camp.
“We just want to be part of the conversation and do what we can to help have positive change in a very important matter that we all take very seriously,” said Tavares.
The Leafs captain called it a “player-driven” decision to wear the shirts, but was quick to point out there was organizational support behind the move.
“We as a group tried to have some conversations about it,” Rielly said. “I think what we realized is not all of us have had the experiences that people around the world have had and I think that this is just our small way to keep the conversation going and to really try to acknowledge the fact that this is an ongoing thing and it’s gonna take a lot of work. We’re completely committed to supporting the movement.”
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) July 13, 2020
“It was a great initiative by our players,” said Keefe, “obviously one that, as an organization, we’re very supportive of. On a day where everyone wants to talk about hockey, everybody is excited to get back to playing, it’s important to have that – the Black Lives Matter movement – be prevalent. We want to make sure that that’s not lost in all of this and that it is a very important issue that we haven’t forgotten about. We want to be a big part of making positive change.”
Although he was spotted at the practice facility, Timothy Liljegren did not take part in the on-ice work. Tyler Gaudet, a forward, filled in on defence during Monday’s sessions.
Leafs lines in Monday’s practice and scrimmages:
Nylander – Matthews – Hyman
Mikheyev – Tavares – Marner
Engvall – Kerfoot – Kapanen
Clifford – Gauthier – Spezza
Robertson – Brooks – Korshkov
Agostino – Petan – Malgin
Muzzin – Holl
Rielly – Ceci
Dermott – Barrie
Sandin – Marincin
Rosen – Kivihalme
Unfit to play: Timothy Liljegren
Rockets' Westbrook tests positive – TSN
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Houston’s Russell Westbrook hasn’t made it to the NBA restart yet.
The coronavirus did — but health protocols seemed to work as the league and its players hoped they would.
On a day of troubling news for the league — Westbrook revealing that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and two other players facing 10-day quarantines for leaving the league campus perimeter at Walt Disney World — it was also announced that two players tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Central Florida last week.
But neither player made it out of quarantine, so neither entered the so-called bubble and could mingle freely with other players, coaches and staff. The NBA said both players, neither of whom were identified, “have since left the Campus to isolate at home or in isolation housing.”
“Our protocols are unbelievable,” Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “I think our protocols and our health and safety measures have been top-notch. I think this thing will work perfectly. … We’re doing everything that we can possibly do to make sure that we’re healthy, we’re safe and we’re in an environment where we can be successful and do our jobs at a high level.”
It’s unclear when Westbrook will arrive. As recently as Sunday, the Rockets believed that Westbrook and James Harden — neither of whom travelled with the team to Walt Disney World near Orlando last week — would be with the team in the next few days.
In Westbrook’s case, that now seems most unlikely.
“I tested positive for covid-19 prior to my teams departure to Orlando,” Westbrook wrote on his social media channels. “I’m currently feeling well, quarantined, and looking forward to rejoining my teammates when I am cleared.”
Westbrook is averaging 27.5 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game for the Rockets this season. Houston has clinched a playoff spot and resumes its season with the first of eight seeding games on July 31 against Dallas.
“I’m praying for his safety and the same for his family,” Phoenix guard Devin Booker said. “Hopefully he can get healthy and get down here as soon as possible.”
The league also said Monday that 19 players newly tested positive since July 1 during in-market testing, meaning tests done before teams began arriving at Disney on July 7. Upon arrival at Disney, 322 players were tested with the two positives.
“All we can do is try to stay optimistic about it and positive, and hopefully we can finish this season,” said Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, the reigning NBA Finals MVP.
Inside the NBA bubble, however, optimism that the rules established by the league and the players will work — even though some Disney parks reopened to visitors over the weekend and the MLS restart, also at the campus, has seen two teams leave after a spate of positive tests.
“It’s a condition, a virus, that does not discriminate,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “And we’re trying to do everything we can to keep our guys safe.”
Those protocols that Lowry spoke of were designed to be taken seriously, and at least two players inside the NBA bubble have already paid a steep price for violating quarantine upon their teams’ respective arrivals last week.
Sacramento’s Richaun Holmes revealed Monday that he “briefly and accidentally” crossed the NBA campus line to pick up a food delivery. Under the NBA’s rules of the restart, he now has to spend 10 days in quarantine.
Holmes said he had eight days left in quarantine.
“I apologize for my actions and look forward to rejoining my teammates for our playoff push,” Holmes wrote.
Also Monday, a person with knowledge of the situation said that Houston’s Bruno Caboclo was also serving a 10-day quarantine for crossing the campus line. Like Holmes, Caboclo also had eight days remaining Monday, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Rockets have not announced the sanction.
Monday’s developments came on a day where more than 12,000 new cases were confirmed in Florida, now perhaps the hottest of virus hotspots in the U.S. And officials in Houston also called for that city to lock back down as area hospitals strain to accommodate patients sick with the coronavirus
Westbrook also offered a word of caution.
“Please take this virus seriously,” Westbrook wrote. “Be safe. Mask up!”
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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