OHL Commissioner David Branch discusses upcoming season
October 30 2020
There was concern, and goalie Steve Valiquette said he remembers getting an email from Rangers assistant general manager Don Maloney.
“He was asking me to come back from Russia on a contract because Henrik wasn’t having a great training camp and they weren’t 100 percent sure about him,” said Valiquette, who played for New York in the 2003-04 season and from 2006-10. “They wanted a little more assurance to have a guy that was around. They probably would have used me if they were thinking he needed time in the minors to back up Kevin Weekes for a bit.”
Lundqvist started the 2005-06 season with the Rangers anyway.
“And, sure enough, Henrik, his second start, I remember him standing on his head against [the] New Jersey [Devils],” Valiquette said of Lundqvist saving 20 of 21 shots in a 4-1 home victory Oct. 13, 2005. “It was off to the races from there.”
The Rangers bought out the final season of Lundqvist’s seven-year, $59.5 million contract ($8.5 million average annual value) on Wednesday, making the goalie known as The King an unrestricted free agent for the first time after playing all 15 of his NHL seasons with New York.
Lundqvist will be free to sign with any team when free agency begins Oct. 9, marking the end of the most successful era for a Rangers goalie.
The 38-year-old is 459-310-96 with a 2.43 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and 64 shutouts, and 61-67 with a 2.30 GAA, .921 save percentage and 10 shutouts in the postseason. Lundqvist, sixth on the NHL wins list, is New York’s leader in games played (887), wins, shutouts, saves (23,509), and time on ice (51,816:19), along with starts (130), wins, shutouts, saves (3,567) and time on ice (7,935:25) in the postseason.
Valiquette, Weekes and Martin Biron, who each backed up Lundqvist in New York, spoke to NHL.com and shared insight into the goalie’s distinguished career with the Rangers.
Biron said that by the time he joined the Rangers, he already heard enough about Lundqvist’s work ethic to know what to expect. Or so he thought.
“I got on the ice and I was like, ‘Holy cow, this is times 10 what I expected his work ethic to be and I already expected it to be high,'” said Biron, who was with the Rangers from 2010-14. “It was unreal.”
Weekes recalled Lundqvist’s affinity for facing breakaways in practice. He said most goalies shy away from the shootout drill unless it is required because they risk getting exposed, but Lundqvist was different.
“He wanted them, and requested them,” Weekes said. “Why? He had that much fire. He wanted that 1-on-1 challenge.”
Lundqvist is the NHL leader in shootout wins with 61. He has played his entire NHL career with the shootout, which was implemented in his first season, and without tie games.
“When we’d go to a shootout and Hank was in net, I’d just get ready to leave the ice like, ‘This is done,'” Valiquette said. “I’ve already seen him for 20 minutes the day before in practice and the day before that and the day before that shut everybody down. He was just different. When I was playing with him as a practice partner, I’d be keeping score on the drills we’d be doing so I could try to meet his level, and it was so difficult to ever get close to him.”
Lundqvist became an A-list celebrity in New York, where Biron recalls seeing him dine with John McEnroe, and even play guitar onstage with the tennis legend on another occasion.
“He doesn’t talk about it a lot and he doesn’t go out and promote himself in that way,” Biron said of his former teammate’s celebrity status. “It’s just him, it’s the way he is, and it works for him. He is comfortable in who he is.”
Lundqvist also became known off the ice for his fashion sense. Weekes said Lundqvist was ahead of the fashion curve when he arrived in New York from his native Sweden in 2005, both with the clothes he wore, specifically the skinny suits, and with how he wore his pads.
“He was an innovator in terms of his strapping on his pads, the way they were configured, the way he wore his pads, the functionality of how the pad was set up based on how he played, his stance,” Weekes said. “If you stand up straight and you roll your ankles to the outside, that’s how his feet looked if you were behind him. That didn’t make sense because, if anything, you’d want your feet to be straight or more inward so you have inside edge, but I don’t know, it was so different from what I had seen and what we had really seen.”
Valiquette said Lundqvist’s celebrity, his style, the suits, the hair, the custom pads and his own crown logo all created a misrepresentation of who he really is and what he cares about.
“People can think that he’s more into fashion or the distractions become too much with the celebrity around him, and it’s never the case,” Valiquette said.
Valiquette recalled having dinner with Lundqvist one night in Pittsburgh, where the conversation turned to hockey, the Rangers and goaltending. It was then that he realized how much Lundqvist loved the game.
“I was floored by his knowledge of how our defensive zone should be structured around how he needs to see the puck off the release,” said Valiquette, a Rangers studio analyst for MSG Network. “He was talking about how the player defending in front of him, if the pass came from below the goal line to the slot area, that he needs our player to go at their player on the body so the shooter couldn’t shoot across the net but he only had to protect that strong side. He was bringing out napkins and moving the salt shakers around, and it really dawned on me that this guy really had a massive obsession with hockey and he wanted to become a master of all things.”
Biron said, “He was very critical. He thought he could save every one of the shots he would face, and really that’s the good quality of every great goaltender. There would be goals he would say, ‘I should have had that.’ I’d look at him and say, ‘You know what, you and Dominik Hasek maybe, but the rest of us mortals would say that’s a pretty good goal.'”
Weekes watched closely how Lundqvist handled this season, navigating through the changing of the guard to Igor Shesterkin once the rookie was called up by the Rangers from Hartford of the American Hockey League on Jan. 6. Lundqvist started four of New York’s final 29 games before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, then started and lost the first two games against the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers because Shesterkin was unfit to play. The Rangers were swept in the best-of-5 series.
Weekes called it a master class in professionalism and grace but said he knew the reduced role was eating away at Lundqvist inside.
“He never had that type of adversity,” said Weekes, an NHL Network analyst who played for the Rangers from 2005-07. “He didn’t have to worry about contracts. For the most part until the latter stages nobody was messing with his ice time or playing games with him. No PR people are going to give you the wrong address when you’re going to a team function. The organization for him was always red carpet. So what’s happened in the last couple years for him, I can’t imagine how hard it’s been because all of a sudden you’re not treated the same way.
“The reality isn’t the same and you don’t have the ability to override. The automatic decision isn’t, ‘Hey man, this is yours because you’re you.’ Publicly he’s shown a lot of grace. He’s a first-class person, a Hall of Famer, philanthropic. But I’m sure his heart and his soul and his psyche are broken in a thousand pieces because this was a very different reality for him.”
It’s an even stranger reality now that Lundqvist knows he won’t be back with the Rangers next season.
He could sign with another team and continue his quest to win the Stanley Cup. He could retire from the NHL, return to Sweden and play a few more seasons, maybe team up with his twin brother Joel Lundqvist, a center for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League. Or he could hang up the pads for good.
Whatever happens, the goalies who played with him, who saw his rise to royalty in New York, have a shared perspective on why Lundqvist will one day have his No. 30 retired at Madison Square Garden.
“He’s going to leave this game as the most respected guy that any of us ever played with,” Valiquette said. “That goes a long way. That’s a legacy. That’s not a one-off thing. You’re talking about a legacy.”
The Ontario Hockey League intends to make its return on Feb. 4, but how that return will look in practice may need to be different from what fans and players are accustomed to.
On Friday, shortly after the Ontario provincial government reaffirmed its stance that bodychecking and deliberate physical contact would not take place during sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic, OHL commissioner David Branch said the league will follow the results of scientific studies in crafting its return-to-play plan, but did not align his position fully with the province’s mandate.
“If there’s studies that really, clearly state that body contact is a contributor to the spread of the virus, then obviously we’ll have to look at it,” Branch said during an appearance on Sportsnet 590 THE FAN’s Writers Bloc. “But we’ve not looked at it yet.”
Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister of sport, made clear in her Friday announcement solidifying the bodychecking ban, and in subsequent follow-up Tweets on the topic, that the mandate was an important part of playing sport during the COVID-19 era — and was not negotiable.
“Not just in the OHL, not just in hockey in general, but in all sports,” MacLeod said during a speech delivered to the Empire Club of Canada. “We’re in a very serious game right now and the reality is we have to take those public health precautions.”
According to Ontario’s “Framework For Reopening Our Province Stage 3,” a publicly available document released by the province that outlines best-practices for individuals and organizations during this stage of Ontario’s pandemic response, “prolonged or deliberate contact while playing sports” is not permitted.
“Our public health officials have been clear,” MacLeod wrote on Twitter. “Prolonged or deliberate contact while playing sports is not permitted. We will continue to work with [the OHL] on a safe return to play.”
OHL Commissioner David Branch discusses upcoming season
October 30 2020
The document goes on to say that in team sports where body contact between players is an integral component of the sport, or commonly occurs while engaged in the sport, those sports will not be permitted unless the way they’re played can be modified to prevent prolonged or deliberate physical contact.
“I suspect [the OHL] will have to modify their play until there is a vaccine or at the very least public health clearance that we have contained the spread of COVID-19,” MacLeod said on Friday.
In the summer, Ontario hosted the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, using Toronto as one of its hub cities, and did not require rule changes that would prevent prolonged or deliberate physical contact. The success of the NHL’s model — a sequestered bubble to limit exposure and remove travel risks, rigorous testing and contact tracing — would be challenging, if not impossible, for a league like the OHL to afford.
Ontario’s confirmation that bodychecking in the OHL would be subject to its reopening mandates comes as daily, reported COVID-19 cases hover near all-time highs.
Over the past seven days, the province has seen a daily average of nearly 900 new cases, according to publicly available tracking data.
“This isn’t politics and hockey,” MacLeod tweeted. “It is a global pandemic and we are guided by healthcare policy to mitigate against the spread of a deadly virus.”
It is not clear at this time how the policy banning “prolonged or deliberate physical contact” would impact other, non-bodychecking elements of hockey games such as battles for the puck along the boards.
Earlier this month, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League resumed play without any modifications to its rules. Its schedule has been disrupted by several COVID-19 outbreaks among teams, as well as provincial restrictions on travel.
The challenge the league experienced, in part, helped solidify Ontario’s decision that bodychecking cannot take place, MacLeod said. According to Branch, that policy decision has not factored into the OHL’s return-to-play planning to this point.
“We haven’t even contemplated that, quite frankly,” Branch said. “At the end of the day, so much of what we’re attempting to do is provide the opportunity for our players to get back on the ice. We have to take them into consideration here and what’s best for their development, their ongoing development.”
The Ontario Hockey League will not have bodychecking this coming season, according to Lisa MacLeod.
Ontario’s minister of sport said Friday afternoon in a speech delivered to the Empire Club of Canada that removing purposeful physical contact is a necessity for all sports in the province to slow the spread of COVID-19
“Not just in the OHL, not just in hockey in general, but in all sports,” said MacLeod. “We’re in a very serious game right now and the reality is we have to take those public health precautions.”
The OHL announced on Thursday that it plans to start a shortened season on Feb. 4, the last of Canada’s three major junior leagues to release a schedule.
WATCH | MacLeod says bodychecking barred from OHL:
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season started earlier this month, but the schedule has been affected by several COVID-19 outbreaks as well as provincial government restrictions. After play was restricted to Maritimes Division teams the past two weeks, some Quebec teams are scheduled to resume play this weekend.
MacLeod said the decision to ban bodychecking was influenced by the outbreaks in the QMJHL.
“I suspect [the OHL] will have to modify their play until there is a vaccine or at the very least public health clearance that we have contained the spread of COVID-19,” said MacLeod.
The MPP for Nepean said she normally has no problem with physical play in the sport, but the pandemic is an exceptional circumstance.
“I have done a lot of work on concussion awareness so I do take very seriously the safety but if done appropriately in regular times I wouldn’t,” MacLeod said.
NEW YORK — The Wilpon family’s control of the New York Mets neared its end after 34 years when Major League Baseball owners voted Friday to approve the sale of the team to billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen.
The vote was 26-4, a person familiar with the meeting told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the balloting was not announced. Cohen needed 75% approval.
The transfer from the Wilpon and Katz families values the franchise at between $2.4 billion and $2.45 billion, a record for a baseball team that tops the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers from Frank McCourt to Guggenheim Baseball Management in 2012. The Mets sale is likely to close within 10 days.
Cohen pledged to inject about $9.5 million in additional payments this off-season for pandemic-hit employees.
“I am humbled that MLB’s owners have approved me to be the next owner of the New York Mets,” Cohen said in a statement. “Owning a team is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility.”
An entity controlled by Cohen will own 95% of the franchise, and the Wilpon and Katz families will retain 5% of the team.
Former Mets general manager Sandy Alderson will return as team president.
“My family and I are lifelong Mets fans, so we’re really excited about this,” Cohen said. “With free agency starting Sunday night, we will be working towards a quick close.”
Cohen said all Mets employees, including unionized groundskeepers, security guards and engineers, will receive restored pre-pandemic salaries as of Sunday that reverse 5-30% salary cuts begun in March. He valued the restoration at over $7 million.
A seasonal relief fund will start Sunday and run through opening day for about 1,000 Citi Field employees of subcontractors that makes each eligible for $500 monthly, a commitment of about $2.5 million.
Cohen pledged to “dramatically increase” giving by the Mets Foundation and to prioritize not-for-profits and causes in the Citi Field area. He agreed to donate $17.5 million to programs developed by New York City to make grants to area small businesses through the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
Cohen made his announcement as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city does not object to the sale. The city had the right to review the proposed transfer of the lease of Citi Field, the Mets’ home since 2009.
The current Mets ownership group is headed by Fred Wilpon, brother-in-law Saul Katz and Wilpon’s son, Jeff, the team’s chief operating officer. Fred Wilpon turns 84 on Nov. 22 and Katz is 81.
“We appreciate Fred’s decades of service to league committees and the governance of the game,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Steve will bring his lifelong passion for the Mets to the stewardship of his hometown team, and he will be joined by highly respected baseball leadership as well. I believe that Steve will work hard to deliver a team in which Mets fans can take pride.”
The 64-year-old Cohen is CEO and president of Point72 Asset Management. He first bought an 8% limited partnership stake in the Mets in 2012 for $40 million.
“I know that Steve Cohen and his family share the same passion we’ve had for the Mets and for this city,” Fred Wilpon said in a statement. “Steve will continue, and will build upon, this organization’s longstanding commitment to the support of our community, and of those in need, which is especially important at this time. He shares the view that Saul, Jeff and I have long held, that ownership of the Mets is a public trust.”
The publisher Doubleday & Co. bought the Mets on Jan. 24, 1980, from the family of founding owner Joan Payson for $21.1 million, with the company owning 95% of the team and Wilpon controlling 5%.
When Doubleday & Co. was sold to Bertelsmann AG, the publisher sold its shares of the team on Nov. 14, 1986, for $80.75 million to Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday, who became 50-50 owners.
Wilpon and his Sterling Equities partners completed his buyout of Doubleday on Aug. 23, 2002, ending what had become an acrimonious partnership. Under the original appraisal, Doubleday would have received $137.9 million — half the team’s $391 million value after accounting for debt. Wilpon sued, and the sides then settled.
The Mets failed to win any titles under the Wilpons’ time of sole control and their final dozen years were hampered by financial losses from the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.
“It has been a privilege and honour for our families to have been a part of this great franchise for the past 40 years,” Fred Wilpon said. “We would like to express our deep appreciation for our loyal and passionate fans, who have consistently supported this organization through the years. We’d also like to thank the many great players, managers, coaches and dedicated employees with whom we’ve been privileged to work with through the years.”
Cohen controlled SAC Capital Advisors, which in 2013 pleaded guilty to criminal fraud charges. SAC agreed to pay a $900 million fine and forfeit another $900 million to the federal government, though $616 million that SAC companies had already agreed to pay to settle parallel actions by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was to be deducted from the $1.8 billion.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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