Maple Leafs’ John Tavares on integrity of Stanley Cup: ‘It will be as deserving as any player or team before’

Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares was in the middle of the league’s return-to-play discussions with the National Hockey League Players’ Association as a member of the Return to Play Committee. On Tuesday, the NHL announced plans for how action could resume.

If the playoffs do happen, Toronto would face the Columbus Blue Jackets in a best-of-five play-in series for a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Leafs captain said keeping the integrity of the Stanley Cup was discussed heavily in a call with reporters Wednesday.

“I think anyone who gets their name on it wants to earn it like the players did before and I think we all feel given the circumstances for it, it’s not going to perfect considering we had to pause the season,” Tavares explained. “We came to the conclusion that this is the best one, whether it’s perfect or not I think can be up for debate but I think we’re going to get to our normal 16-team playoff.

“I think it’s going to be a very worthy and deserving Stanley Cup champion and it will be as deserving as any player or team before.”

Discussions are still ongoing on whether to make the first round of the playoffs a best-of-five or a best-of-seven series, but Tavares’ personal view would be to play all four rounds of the playoffs in a best-of-seven series.

Stanley Cup playoffs 2020: Everything you need to know

On Monday, the NHL announced its plans to enter Phase 2 of its return-to-play protocol which would allow players to train in groups of six or fewer. Because of the extensive layoff, Tavares is wary of the injury risks players face as training ramps up.

“I think the uniqueness of our sport, unlike maybe some of the other sports where running and jumping is really a lot of the major things that you do, a lot of that you can do at home or kind of out in open space and whatnot,” Tavares described. “Obviously for us being on the ice is a big hurdle and as we started discussing with the Return to Play Committee a number of weeks ago, we really wanted to be more on the cautious side than obviously being aggressive.

“It’s obviously something we’ve never really done before but we’re going to try to make the most informed and cautious decision, the best decision that we possibly can to make sure we’re keeping guys healthy and safe. We want the quality of the hockey to be really high and when guys haven’t been on the ice for two and a half months, and then you’re jumping right into a very highly competitive competition, we really want to make sure that everyone’s prepared.”

If the Leafs return to action, general manager Kyle Dubas expects the team to be nearly at full health. Ilya Mikheyev (wrist) and Jake Muzzin (hand) haven’t been fully cleared to return to play, but he expects both to be ready if play resumes. Forward Andreas Johnsson is recovering from knee surgery, which he underwent on Feb. 19. The Leafs put his timetable for recovery at six months so he could see a return to action should Toronto be playing in August.

Tavares said it’ll be a huge boost for the team to be nearly at full strength.

“I think as you get close to the playoffs, traditionally, there’s always nicks and bruises and things guys are dealing with that, not just us but around the league, every team is going to be pretty much at full strength,” Tavares said. “I think we know when we looked at our team on paper heading into training camp this year, we were really excited about not just our back end, but really top to bottom.

“Group has been built, and certainly we’ve had some great surprises. Some guys elevated over the course of this year that only makes our club better so we got tremendous steps that are only going to continue the competition and help our preparation as we hopefully can get back to the competition in a number of weeks.

“That’ll definitely be a really good strength for us to have everyone healthy and ready to go and have that depth.”

If the Stanley Cup is awarded this year, it’ll be a road unlike any team has taken before. Dubas is embracing the chaos of the 24-team playoff and is excited for his team to compete for a championship.

“I think there are going to be a lot of interesting results in the qualifying round, just given the nature of things and the delay between the teams last played and different changes to the roster,” Dubas told reporters. “It is unique. I think we’re certainly going to embrace it as a unique experience but also as a tremendous opportunity for our team and for our group.”

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NHLPA Open: Participants, how to stream ‘Fortnite’ tournament

The National Hockey League Players Association is conducting an NHLPA Open tournament featuring “Fortnite.” In total, more than 80 players will take part in the three-hour event beginning at 2 p.m. ET Monday.

Organized by Colorado Avalanche forward J.T. Compher and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman, the participants will play four games of “trios” with the winner earning a $200,000 charity prize pool.

“Once the season got shut down, me and my teammates were playing ‘Fortnite’ a little more,” Compher said in an interview with ESPN. “We kind of just came up with the idea of getting an NHL tournament together, where we could play against guys around the league.”

Compher said the excitement about the “Fortnite” tournament has been building amongst the players. The event will be streamed on Twitch and the Avs forward hopes the players show a little restraint in what’s said during the tournament.

“It’s live, so there are going to be some check-ins with the guys. We want kids and families to be able to watch, so we’re trying to limit the cursing,” Compher said. “But we want to see that excitement. That’s part of ‘Fortnite.'”

In the end, the event will help raise money for a good cause.

“To do it for charity right now is most important thing right now,” Compher said. “We have all this downtime, all these tough times going on in the world right now. For the players to step up, use our time, use our exposure in the right way was pretty exciting for us.”

How to watch the NHLPA Open featuring “Fortnite”

The three-hour tournament will feature over 80 hockey players — more than 65 NHLers — separated in 28 different teams. Each team will have a captain designated with Hyman serving as one of the tournament hosts.

Participants

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Maple Leafs’ Jack Campbell on Toronto: ‘What a fantastic organization’

For an athlete, getting traded always presents a number of challenges. You have to pack up and relocate to a new city, usually on short notice and sometimes on the other side of the country. Like everything else, though, it’s a process that has been made even harder by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jack Campbell was traded from the Los Angeles Kings to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 5, a few weeks before the deadline. Barely a month later, he was on his way back to L.A. after the NHL season was put on hold indefinitely. Despite a whirlwind first few weeks in Toronto, he’s loved being a part of his new team so far.

“I’ll always be grateful for L.A. and the opportunities they gave me to establish myself in the league,” he told reporters in a conference call Thursday, “but I mean, getting traded to Toronto, it’s the hockey mecca of the world. What a fantastic organization, top to bottom; the fans, the management and, number one, my teammates. I just really enjoyed getting to know everybody.”

The sudden stop in the season has made things harder, of course, but he’s looking forward to being back with his new teammates as soon as possible.

“[It’s a] little disappointing, we had some momentum going and I was starting to really get to know the boys and gel, but obviously there are bigger things going on right now,” he said. “I’m confident that when it resumes we’ll just keep putting our best foot forward. I’m just really enjoying my time as a Leaf.” 

He even acknowledged feeling a little bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) when he saw fellow Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen throwing alley-oops to Auston Matthews on Instagram. Andersen is staying with Matthews during the quarantine after being unable to return home to Denmark.

“I love those guys,” he said. “They’re awesome. We’ve been texting once a week or so, just staying in the loop, and it looks like they’re having a good time. Those two guys are pretty similar, they love spending time outside playing sports.”

Campbell, who went 3-2-1 in six starts for the Leafs, has been in quarantine at his L.A. apartment since the season was paused about six weeks ago. The netminder is known for his positive attitude — and it should be no surprise that he’s still trying to get better even without being able to get on the ice. 

“I just think for me it gave me a chance to work on some weaknesses I have in my game,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a pretty scary time for the world and the health of everybody is number one, but with that being said, it does give somebody like myself a chance to work on stuff. For me, it was my flexibility. I took the time over the last six weeks to really hammer home a bunch of stretching and I feel like, hopefully, I’ll come back an even better goalie.”

With the NHL reportedly edging closer to announcing a return date, the 28-year-old is growing increasingly eager to lace up the skates and pile on the pads once again. 

“I can’t stop smiling at the thought of, when it’s the right time for everybody to come back, how exciting it’ll be to get in the net and stop some pucks,” he said.

One thing is for sure: No matter how much longer it is before hockey returns, Jack Campbell will keep the same positivity that he always has. 

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Senators goalie Craig Anderson unsure of NHL future amid season pause

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a degree of uncertainty for athletes all over the world, but for those who were pondering retirement at the end of this season, the situation raises even more questions. Craig Anderson is one of those players.

The 38-year-old Senators goalie will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, whenever that begins. Ottawa will not make the playoffs regardless of what happens over its final 11 games. With the league having to abandon the rest of the regular season a distinct possibility, Anderson may have played his last game for the Senators or, possibly, in the NHL. 

“I think we’re at the point now where we’re in an unprecedented area, where we’re in times that we never expected,” he told reporters in a conference call this week, “so I’m just kind of rolling with it right now and, you know, let the chips fall where they may. As an individual, I’m hopeful that we are able to get back to play and kind of finish off the rest of the year, but it’s out of my control. If it were something that I did that screwed things up for myself, it’d be different, but right now I’m not really too concerned about it.”

Anderson is 11-17-2 with a 3.25 GAA and .902 save percentage for Ottawa this season. The team was sitting in 15th place in the Eastern Conference when the season was put on hold on March 12. 

He said he hasn’t spent much time thinking about what the future might hold. 

“I haven’t put much too much thought into future plans,” he said. “I’m kind of trying to stay in the moment as best I can, stay in the now, so to speak, and kind of focus on the what-ifs for what we’re going through now. The current season is what we’re all focused on — Can we get back and finish our season? — so we’ll cross the bridge as far as future plans down the road, but as of right now I’m missing the game like crazy. I want to be on the ice, I want to be there competing with my teammates, so right now that’s the way I’m leaning — that I want to compete and continue to do what I love every day.”

If he has played his last game for the Senators because of the pandemic, then he’ll have been robbed of some closure, but at least he’ll leave with fond memories of his time in Ottawa.

“There are definitely several games that come to mind,” he said. “The best part about my time in Ottawa was the playoff runs. We had a couple of great series, a couple of great games. Pittsburgh at home [in the 2017 Eastern Conference finals] was a good one, obviously our run to the conference finals there. Our fan base got absolutely electric and the dynamic come playoff time, that was kind of something that we eagerly look forward to, and we’re equally disappointed in ourselves as much as our fans were disappointed in us when we didn’t make [the] playoffs.” 

As for life after retirement, Anderson says it will likely involve another one of his passions. He has raced stock cars in the Ottawa Valley in the past and sees motorsports as a possible pursuit. 

“I’ve always had a passion for motorsports,” he said. “It started with our family, my father and my brother and I, we like to be at the track, we like hanging out. It’s kind of our spot to go and catch up. So there’s definitely going to be an involvement with motorsports at some point.”

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Maple Leafs’ Frederik Andersen hoping to stay sharp in quarantine at Auston Matthews’ house

When the sports world came grinding to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL allowed players to return home, wherever that might be. For Toronto Maple Leafs’ goalie Frederik Andersen, however, it wasn’t that simple.

“Denmark was kind of ahead of Canada and the U.S. a little bit [in regards] of being shut down,” he told reporters in a conference call on Thursday. “So that kind of felt a little out of the question for me.” 

Luckily, Andersen’s teammate Auston Matthews offered to let him stay at his house in Arizona. 

“We’ve been close friends since we’ve played together, but obviously spending a bit more time, it’s been fun so far,” the netminder said. “[We’re] pretty competitive about some of the things [we] do here, which is just fun. Having someone to hang out with, talk to, is nice, so I’m very appreciative of being out here.” 

The Danish goalie had been having another solid season in Toronto before the NHL season was paused on March 12. He was fourth in the league in wins (29) and in total saves (1434), despite posting the lowest save percentage (.909) and highest GAA (2.85) of his career in 52 games this year. He was also named to the 2020 All-Star game for the first time in his career. 

Now, like most other hockey players, he’s desperate to get back on the ice — but with that still out of the question, he and Matthews have been exploring other options.

“It’s definitely a challenge not being able to be on the ice,” Andersen commented. “I do have all my gear out here, so I think we’re going to experiment a little bit. He has a little sports court in his house now so I definitely think we’re going to test that out and shoot some pucks. Maybe I can work on my stickhandling and my shot as well!

“I think especially in a time like this where the facilities are limited, it’s about trying to be creative and coming up with something. [Maybe] something with a tennis ball machine, or playing different games with him … he’s got a ping-pong table so we can play with that a little bit, do something with that, and not miss too many steps in this interruption.” 

Andersen is hoping to stay ahead of the curve, especially because he thinks it’ll be harder for goalies to get back into a rhythm than it will be for skaters.  

“As a shooter, you don’t really need a goalie to work on your shot,” he said. “I think as a goalie you just need someone to shoot at you. So I think in that thought, maybe shooters have a little bit of an advantage.”

As for the many different rumors floating around about the plan to finish the season, including hosting the rest of the games in certain arenas, he’s willing to do whatever it takes. 

“I’ve heard a lot of different ideas and obviously different scenarios, but I’m pretty open to pretty much anything that can be done to salvage the season,” Andersen noted, as the Leafs remain third in the Atlantic Division. “I definitely want to see something to be done to try to finalize the season and not lose out on all the hard work and all the stuff that has been put into the season.”

 

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Wayne Gretzky and Alex Ovechkin to face off in ‘NHL 20’ live stream

Wayne Gretzky and Alexander Ovechkin are two of the greatest hockey players to ever lace up skates, but just how good are they with a video game controller in their hands?

We’re about to find out.

The two legends announced in a joint press release on Thursday that they’ll be facing off virtually 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.

Dubbed “The Great One vs. The Great Eight Showcase,” the matchup will pit the pair in a best-of-three series on Xbox with the games livestreamed on the Capitals’ Twitch channel starting at 8 p.m. ET on April 22. 

The idea came when Gretzky saw a video of the Russian winger playing the game with his son, Sergei, on his Instagram story. He got in touch with a member of the Capitals’ communications team looking to arrange a friendly competition, with the goal of raising money for charity while the NHL season remains on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Little is known about the gaming experience of either player, however, Ovechkin is reportedly more of a “Call of Duty” and “Fortnite” fan. Gretzky has played “NHL 20” before but only a handful of times.

Luckily for them, they’ll have teammates there to help them out. 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. 

“Obviously we’re a little better when we have our skates on and a hockey stick in our hands than we are when we have controllers, but it’s not about that,” Gretzky said in a phone call with reporters. “It’s more about the ability to help people that are less fortunate and for fans to enjoy a night of us not looking very talented at what we’re doing. It’ll be a fun night for a good cause.”

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To help aid social distancing, Canadians use hockey sticks — figuratively and literally

The terms "social distancing" and "six feet" go hand in hand these days. For the United States' neighbors to the north though, the term is "two meters" — a slightly lengthier six feet, six inches. 

How some Canadians are ensuring their proper social distance is, well, quite Canadian.

They're using hockey sticks, figuratively and literally.  

The City of Toronto has posted signs encouraging citizens to remain two meters apart "or about the length a hockey stick," the sign reads. 

At Harvey's, a Canadian fast food chain, debit card machines have been attached to the end of hockey sticks that drive-thru workers slide through the driver's side window. 

"Only in Canada, would we use our iconic hockey sticks to ensure everyone stays safe at a physical distance while buying their Harvey's burgers," Harvey's COO David Colebrook said in a statement to CTV. "It's a creative and fun solution to a challenging issue. And it ensures we can keep feeding Canadians through our restaurants and food banks."

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Players, media share memories of Oilers forward Colby Cave

Edmonton Oilers forward Colby Cave died Saturday morning. He was 25. Cave’s family released a statement announcing the news.

“It is with great sadness to share the news that our Colby Cave passed away early this morning. I (Emily, Colby’s wife) and both our families are in shock but know our Colby was loved dearly by us, his family and friends, the entire hockey community, and many more. We thank everyone for their prayers during this difficult time.”

The Oilers released a statement reading, “We want to express our deepest condolences to the family and friends after the passing of our teammate Colby Cave earlier this morning. Colby was a terrific teammate with great character, admired and liked everywhere he played. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Emily, his family and friends at this very difficult time.”

Boston Bruins released statements from president Cam Neely, general manager Don Sweeney, head coach Bruce Cassidy, captains Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron and forward Jake DeBrusk.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement on the passing of Cave.

Remembrances flooded social media as the hockey world reacted to the news of Cave’s death.

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Flyers goalie Carter Hart: ‘It sucks that we’re not playing hockey right now’

A little less than a month ago, Carter Hart was tending goal for the hottest team in the NHL and preparing to make his first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, he’s sitting at home like the rest of us. 

The Philadelphia Flyers goalie has been back in his hometown of Sherwood Park, Alb., just outside of Edmonton, ever since the NHL season was put on hold on March 12. He’s been passing the time by trying to stay in shape in case the 2019-20 season does resume.

“Can’t really do much,” he told reporters in a conference call on Thursday. “I have a bike in the basement, some free weights and all my bags that I have to use. The strength coach is sending us all programs to do. I have that all to stay in shape… There’s no ice anywhere so I can’t really skate. Just have to maintain our fitness levels off the ice.”

Like most players, Hart is desperate to be back playing hockey, but he understands the importance of the current lockdown measures. 

“It sucks that we’re not playing hockey right now,” he said. “There’s bigger things going on right now in the world. Everybody’s in the same boat. We all have to try and do our part. I know everybody that’s working on the front line, all medical workers, hospital workers, essential service workers, they are all doing great jobs stepping up for us. We have to do our part here and stay inside. Just try to stay healthy and beat this thing, so that we can all resume our normal everyday lives.”

There have been a number of rumored plans for the league to finish the current season, including summer hockey, a 24-team playoff format and even neutral site games in North Dakota. Hart has no idea whether any of those will end up a reality, but he’s trying to stay ready just in case.

“You hear a ton of rumors out there, but you can’t really know what’s true and what’s not,” he said. “I think when the time comes or the decision comes, us as professional athletes have to make sure we find a way to stay ready now. When that time does come, we’re prepared, no matter what the format is.”

He said players will need at least a week or two once lockdown measures are lifted to prepare before the season resumes.

“I think everybody’s in the same boat in the sense that if we are to come back, we would probably need a week or two to get back together as a group, kind of get back in sync,” he said. “Get back on the ice and feel the puck, kind of get back in hockey shape. Maybe a week or two. I think you don’t want to rush into it right away. When you’ve had an extended break like this, you don’t know how long the uncertainty of how it’s going to be, also comes with risk of injury when you are coming back. Whenever it is when we come back, that we get the proper time to get back into hockey shape so we’re ready to play.”

Above all, the second-year goalie is disappointed that the season was stopped with the Flyers playing so well. He was also looking forward to getting his first taste of playoff hockey in the NHL.

“We put ourselves in a good position there down the stretch,” he said. “It definitely sucks that we didn’t get to finish it out. It sucks that we are not playing right now in the playoffs. Hopefully, we get that chance here down the line once everything is back to normal.”

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Senators announce four more team members have tested positive for coronavirus

The Senators announced Wednesday that four additional members of the organization have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Of the four people affected, it is believed that three are players and one is a staff member.

The additional positive tests come after Ottawa had already made two separate announcements, one on March 17 and the other on March 21, that players on the team had contracted the coronavirus. The two unnamed players were the first confirmed cases in the NHL.

Broadcaster Gord Wilson, who is well known for doing radio commentary for Senators games on TSN 1200, tested positive last week. However, according to The Athletic’s Hailey Salvian, he’s not included in the seven positive tests announced by the team so far. 

The Senators completed a road trip through California prior to the March 12 “pause” of the NHL schedule due to the global COVID-19 outbreak. They faced the Sharks (March 7), Ducks (March 10) and Kings (March 11).

A total of 52 people traveled with the team on its road trip with 44 showing no symptoms, according to a press release from March 21. The eight that were symptomatic were tested for the coronavirus.

All of the test results had been received as of Wednesday, with seven of them coming back positive. A statement on the Senator’s website said that all those who tested positive had recovered. The team also said it had instructed everyone in the traveling group to self-quarantine starting on March 13.

“The Ottawa Senators’ medical team continues to monitor players and staff and are following all appropriate and professional guidelines to help ensure the health and safety of our employees and the greater community,” the statement continued.

The additional positive tests bring the total number of confirmed cases among NHL players to seven, with five on the Senators and two on the Colorado Avalanche. None of the affected players have been named as of yet. 

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