Bruins

Bruins prospect Trent Frederic looking forward to playoff hockey

Bruins prospect Trent Frederic looking forward to playoff hockey

The wheels are turning toward NHL hockey returning and the Stanley Cup Playoffs getting underway.

With an NHLPA call set for Thursday night where the players are set to weigh in on the NHL’s plan for a return to play with a 24-team tournament, the players around the league are getting ready to start things up.

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Bruins prospect Trent Frederic confirmed during a virtual town hall with Bruins season ticket holders that dates for a return to practice, training camp and perhaps more were getting tossed around on a Zoom call between Bruins players on Wednesday.

“We had a Zoom call yesterday with the group and there were some dates thrown. It sounds like there is going to be some hockey,” said Frederic, who said he’s been able to skate outside of St. Louis County in recent weeks. “I don’t know much. I’m more of a listener when it comes to what is going on with the NHLPA and stuff. But it sounds like there is going to be some playoff hockey for sure.”

Frederic is one of a number of young players — including 21-year-old center prospect Jack Studnicka — who are expected to join the Bruins when they begin working out, and could fill some kind of Black Aces reserve role if the NHL expands rosters given the circumstances. 

The NHLPA would be voting on a 24-team playoff that would set seeds 5-12 in each conference playing each other in a bracketed play-in five-game playoff series, and the top four seeds in each conference would play in a round-robin tournament with final seeding on the line, per a hockey source.

The plan would give new potential playoff life to teams like the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers that might have otherwise thought their season was over when the regular season went on pause.

Based on the 12 Eastern Conference teams being ranked by points percentage, the top seed could play the winner of a Maple Leafs/Blue Jackets play-in series, and right now the Bruins would be No. 1 seed.

The NHL is then expected to go with a conventional best-of-seven series for each round once they have pared down to the normal 16 teams for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Here’s how the Eastern Conference seeding would look:

1. Boston Bruins 7. New York Islanders
2. Tampa Bay Lightning 8. Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Washington Capitals 9. Columbus Blue Jackets
4. Philadelphia Flyers 10. Florida Panthers
5. Pittsburgh Penguins 11. New York Rangers
6. Carolina Hurricanes 12. Montreal Canadiens

The expectation is still that NHL games of any kind wouldn’t be played until sometime in July at the earliest given the weeks required for all NHL players to get back into skating shape.

Frederic mentioned that he’s already begun skating in the St. Louis area where he’s living with his parents, and the expectation is that NHL players could begin skating in small groups of 3-4 players within the next few weeks.

Obviously, there are still plenty of hurdles to get over including ample, rapid testing and a decision on cities where the games will be played over the next few weeks, but NHL and NHLPA agreement this week on a playoff format would be a massive step in the right direction toward hockey coming back in the next few months.

Many questions remain about risk and health as NHL talks return to play

Many questions remain about risk and health as NHL talks return to play

While the NHL made big news last week with the unveiling of its plan to return to play with a 24-team tournament expected to get going this summer — barring any unforeseen COVID-19 setbacks — there is still plenty to be hashed out.

The NHLPA and NHL will need to come to agreement on other aspects of the league’s return-to-play plan and teams will need to begin skating, practicing and preparing to play in the postseason tournament that’s still months away.

The NHL is expected to make a formal announcement that the 31 NHL teams can begin Phase 2 with small practice groups at NHL facilities sometime over the next few weeks, and the word is that NHL training camp won’t begin prior to a July 10 start date. This means we could be seeing Stanley Cup playoff hockey in August and September before a Stanley Cup is awarded to the winner of the 2019-20 NHL season sometime in the fall.

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The real question, though, is how safe it’s going to be for players, referees, team and league personnel and anybody else essential that’s involved to help make these NHL games happen in designated hub cities once they are up and running.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara acknowledged there is still plenty left to go when it comes to the issues of health and well-being while talking about a return to play with Bruins reporters last week.

“These are the questions that still need to be processed. After the approval of the format there are other steps that need to be gone over,” said Chara. “I’m sure this is one of those things that everybody needs to be aware of that the safety and health of players, staff, coaches and everybody working around [the games] needs to be taken care of. Those are the questions that will need to be asked and answered.”

Some NHL players like Leafs winger Mitch Marner already expressed concern about any NHL personnel with underlying health conditions like Montreal Canadiens forward Max Domi, who has Type 1 Diabetes. Clearly there are also some older NHL coaches like Claude Julien, Joel Quenneville and John Tortorella who could be more at risk if a COVID-19 outbreak were to happen during these playoffs, and that doesn’t even take into account older NHL assistant coaches as well.

“I’m all down for starting everything up [with the NHL season again]. Let’s rock. [But] what if someone gets sick and dies? It's awful to think about, but still," said Marner of Domi, his former London Knights teammate, a few weeks ago during a video chat with fans. "There's dudes like [Max] Domi who has diabetes. If he gets it, he's in [a predicament]."

TSN 690 radio host Tony Marinaro admitted on an NBC Sports Boston Zoom call with James Murphy and yours truly last week that it’s a “scary” scenario for the Canadiens given their situation with players and coaches. It wouldn’t shock anyone if there may even be some hesitant players who opt not to return to play this summer depending on their individual health situations and concern level.

“I just got off the phone [on-air] about an hour ago with Dr. Leighanne Parkes, who is an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal and I asked her about Max Domi. I asked her about Max Domi because as we know with this COVID-19 that it’s mostly the elderly that are losing their lives. But if there is somebody losing their life before the age of 80, then it’s someone with an underlying health condition. Max Domi is a Type-1 diabetic and that is scary and extremely dangerous.

“I asked her about the [21-page] document put out by the NHL for their health protocols [during the return to play] and she said it was a well thought out document. She said the NHL has covered most of the bases, if not all of them, and it was really well thought out. But at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to individual choice, Max Domi’s individual choice. But it really is scary and it really is dangerous for a player with a pre-existing condition.

Even though the protocol is there and the document is there and they take all the safety measures, do you want to take the risk? Would I? No. Would you? Probably not. But if there is one thing our experience has shown us, we’re not wired like these [NHL players]. These guys want to play. I can’t speak for Max Domi, but if I were a betting man I’d bet that he would play.

Domi himself admitted it was on his mind while talking it over on a conference call with reporters a few weeks ago amidst the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent NHL work stoppage.

"Being a Type 1 diabetic, it's something that raises some concern. But you really don't know how everyone's going to be affected by this disease. Being a Type 1 doesn't change much. I would handle myself the same way as if I didn't have [diabetes]," said the 25-year-old Domi, who is third on the Canadiens with 17 goals and 44 points in 71 games this season. "Everyone is affected by this in their own way. A lot of people have been struggling.

“A lot of people have suffered loss. It's been a really tough time for everyone, and you have to be sensitive to that. You have to understand that this is very real. People have gotten sick from this. People have died from this. All you can really do is do your part, stay at home, stay safe and be respectful of any rules that were put in place.”

The good news is that most teams, and subsequently most players, will be eliminated from playoff contention within the first few weeks of a Stanley Cup playoff return-to-play. The attrition of playoff rounds will quickly lessen the amount of people, both quarantined and coming into contact with each other, present at the hub cities.

A few shortened playoff series at the start of the NHL tournament could make that an even more expeditious process that’s as safe as it can possibly for everybody involved. But at the end of the day it will be about some level of risk for each and every NHL player involved.

It all boils down to a very personal decision — and it shouldn't be all that surprising if not every player signs up to assume that COVID-19 risk once play does resume.

Who are the Top 10 NHL players from Massachusetts?

Who are the Top 10 NHL players from Massachusetts?

There’s a strong tradition of hockey in the state of Massachusetts, and not so surprisingly there is also no shortage of standout NHL players from this state.

A great deal of those talented players arrived in the years since Bobby Orr first came to town in Black and Gold and brought with him a hockey rink boom all over the Commonwealth, so there’s no coincidence to the timing of it all.

Another non-shocker: The greatest generation of Massachusetts hockey players continues to be the 1990’s when Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk and Tony Amonte along with Bill Guerin grew into dominant forces of talent at the NHL level. There may never such a concentration of star NHL players from Massachusetts all playing at the same time.

There were older pioneers and standouts, of course, like St. John’s Prep phenom Bobby Carpenter, one of the few high-level elite Massachusetts guys that laced up for the B's, and Acton-Boxborough’s Tom Barrasso on those Stanley Cup teams in Pittsburgh. Here’s a list of the top-10 all-time NHL players born in Massachusetts with apologies to Scott Young, Mike Milbury, Cory Schneider, Tom Poti, Tom Fitzgerald, Chris Nilan, Shawn McEachern and Jay Pandolfo for not quite making the cut.