2 North Dakota players to kneel during anthem at season opener

North Dakota defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker and forward Jasper Weatherby plan to kneel while the national anthem plays before they begin their 2020-21 schedule Wednesday.

"We believe racial injustices and the (poor) treatment of minorities and people of color in this country needs to stop, and it needs to be improved all over America and all over the world," Weatherby told the Grand Forks Herald's Brad Elliott Schlossman. "For us, being able to have a platform in a place where there aren't a lot of people of color in hockey or in Grand Forks, it's a really interesting position for us to be in. It's a great platform."

The players made a point of declaring their intentions prior to kneeling so their message is clear, according to Schlossman.

Weatherby expects some people to disapprove, but that won't deter them from doing it.

"I think change is uncomfortable for a lot of people," he added. "If this (demonstration) is uncomfortable for you, it's a great opportunity to educate yourself and look inside and ask yourself, 'Why does that upset me?' and, 'Why is someone from my hometown doing this?' We hope the hockey community knows that we stand with people of color and we are not OK with the way people are being treated in this country."

Bernard-Docker emphasized his ties to the military and said kneeling is, in fact, a way of showing solidarity.

"I have the utmost respect for the military and people who have served," he said. "I have no disrespect to veterans. I have two grandpas who fought in world wars. They have passed away now. But I have no doubt they would support what I'm fighting for, which is the right to be treated equally. People fought for our country so citizens could have fundamental rights. This is what the military fought for."

Weatherby said they currently plan to kneel only before Wednesday's game.

Both players are entering their junior seasons and are assistant captains for the Fighting Hawks. Bernard-Docker is an Ottawa Senators prospect, and the NHL club selected him 26th overall in the 2018 draft. The San Jose Sharks chose Weatherby in the fourth round that same year.

North Dakota will open its NCHC schedule against the Ohio-based Miami University on Wednesday at 4:35 p.m. ET.

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Canadiens expect top prospect Romanov to make immediate impact

The Montreal Canadiens are optimistic blue-chip defensive prospect Alexander Romanov will make an instant impact as a rookie this season.

"Obviously we have to let him have a chance to come in and earn that spot and prove it, but it's there for him to do that," assistant coach Luke Richardson said, according to NHL.com's Jon Lane. "We've evaluated players before and you've seen them come out of the world juniors as stars and do very well in the NHL, so we're expecting nothing less than that for Romanov."

"He's a very excitable player, exciting to watch," Richardson continued. "He plays with the passion and excitement. That's always fun and that'll look really great on a Saturday night in the Bell Centre."

The Canadiens drafted Romanov 38th overall in 2018, and they signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract in July. He joined the Habs in Toronto for training camp before the NHL's return to play, but Romanov wasn't eligible to suit up in the qualifying round and playoffs.

Bringing him over to North America burned a year of Romanov's entry-level deal. But that was worth it for Montreal, as head coach Claude Julien is already thinking about the Russian rearguard's spot in the lineup.

"If he's that good, he'll be a second pairing before you know it," Julien said. "But I think we allow him to develop and gain some experience at a comfortable pace and allow him to showcase what he's able to do.

"He's a very confident individual. Who knows where he's going to be once the season starts? This is a guy who can surprise a lot of people just because he's got those attributes, but he's also got the confidence to go with it, so he may be pushing a lot of people before you know it."

Romanov has spent the past two seasons with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. His offensive production as a teenager in Russia's top league was pedestrian, but Romanov has established himself on the international stage. He was named to the Media All-Star Team at the 2019 and 2020 world juniors, and the blue-liner earned top defenseman honors at the former tournament.

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Dubas regrets undervaluing power of leadership: ‘Shame on me for that’

Kyle Dubas has gained some perspective through defeat.

Following another roller-coaster season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, their general manager says he underestimated the importance of veteran leadership.

"Why, after the first time, I just didn't realize it and learn it then and then apply it every time moving forward, that's just a mistake on my end," Dubas said, according to Sportsnet's Luke Fox. "Shame on me for that."

Though the Leafs have made the postseason in four straight campaigns, the team has yet to make it beyond the first round. A disappointing five-game series loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019-20 forced Dubas to rethink his previous position on the importance of leadership.

The 35-year-old executive addressed the Leafs' need for more veteran voices during the offseason. Dubas re-signed Jason Spezza, brought in future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton, and inked Wayne Simmonds and TJ Brodie to add more experience and determination to the club's Stanley Cup pursuit.

"Those guys have a real increased sense of urgency to them," Dubas said. "Either time is running out on their career and they want to win - in the case of Spezza, Thornton, and Simmonds - or they've faced great disappointment in the past, like TJ Brodie and all the guys on our roster."

However, Dubas did take the time to credit some of the pre-existing in-house leadership. He praised defenseman Morgan Rielly for doing "one of the most selfless things that I've seen" when Rielly volunteered to give his spot on the top power-play unit to Tyson Barrie to help the struggling rearguard find his confidence.

The GM said over the weekend that he's relying on Rielly and the rest of the club's budding core to continue growing in order for the Leafs to reach their maximum potential.

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Report: NHL still hopes to begin season in early January

The NHL isn't straying too far from its original goal of starting the season on Jan. 1, even though that date is just a month away and the format has yet to be determined.

The league still hopes to drop the puck in early January, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reports.

Obstacles appear to stem from the NHL and players' association's ongoing negotiations, but a source told LeBrun that talks have continued.

Both sides agreed to a new six-year collective bargaining agreement before the league's return to play over the summer that accounted for the expected financial repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The union agreed to 10% salary deferrals with escrow capping at 20%. That money was agreed to be paid in three equal, interest-free installments in October 2022, 2023, 2024.

However, the league has reportedly asked for players to defer 20% of their salaries while escrow increases to 25%. This request has reportedly left the players feeling angry and betrayed, as they came to an agreement less than six months ago.

It was recently reported that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr hadn't spoken to each other from Nov. 19 through at least Nov. 25, though the silence between the sides appears to be over.

A recent spike in COVID-19 cases could also add to the challenge of starting the season on time. The NFL, for example, has been hit with a wave of positive tests, causing multiple game postponements and teams to play shorthanded.

The format for the NHL season remains unclear, but an all-Canadian division appears likely given the country's current border restrictions. The league is also reportedly considering having teams play in their own rinks while conducting MLB-like series of two-to-three games. It was reported in early November that 48 games are the fewest that the league will agree to for the upcoming campaign.

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QMJHL pauses season through Jan. 3

The QMJHL is putting all of its activities on hold from Dec. 1 to Jan. 3, the league announced Monday, while adding that more details will be provided in the next few weeks.

“The current situation with the pandemic in the regions in which we operate makes it extremely difficult to play games,” QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau said in a statement. “With the holidays just around the corner, the provinces in the Maritimes have restricted access and travel, while red zone restrictions in Quebec do not permit us to play.”

Multiple QMJHL teams have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks since the league began its 2020-21 season in October. In the middle of that month, the QMJHL paused all games in Quebec. Then, about three weeks later, it relocated seven teams to a bubble in Quebec City.

The WHL and OHL haven't opened their campaigns and are targeting start dates of Jan. 8 and Feb. 4, respectively.

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Robertson, Caufield headline USA’s preliminary WJHC roster

The United States announced its preliminary roster for the 2021 world juniors on Monday.

The 29 selected players - 10 returnees from the 2020 squad - will convene in Plymouth, Michigan, for training camp beginning Dec. 6. The tournament starts Christmas Day in Edmonton.

"We have a talented group and we’ll have some tough decisions to make," general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said. "We continue to benefit from a deep player pool, and that’s credit to all of the organizations and volunteers developing the next wave of American talent."

Forwards

Player NHL rights
John Beecher Bruins
Matthew Beniers 2021 draft eligible
Brett Berard Rangers
Matthew Boldy Wild
Thomas Bordeleau Sharks
Bobby Brink Flyers
Brendan Brisson Golden Knights
Cole Caufield Canadiens
Sam Colangelo Ducks
John Farinacci Coyotes
Arthur Kaliyev Kings
Robert Mastrosimone Red Wings
Patrick Moynihan Devils
Nick Robertson Maple Leafs
Landon Slaggert Blackhawks
Alex Turcotte Kings
Trevor Zegras Ducks

The United States have plenty of first-round talent up front; the group is headlined by blue-chip prospects Robertson, Caufield, and Turcotte. Zegras is another player to watch, as he led the club in scoring at last year's tournament with nine assists in five games.

Defense

Player NHL rights
Brock Faber Kings
Drew Helleson Avalanche
Ryan Johnson Sabres
Jackson LaCombe Ducks
Cam McDonald N/A
Jake Sanderson Senators
Henry Thrun Ducks
Alex Vlasic Blackhawks
Cam York Flyers

The American defensive corps is also ripe with promising prospects, primarily Sandersson - the fifth overall pick in 2020 - as well as York, and Thrun.

Goalies

Player NHL rights
Drew Commesso Blackhawks
Spencer Knight Panthers
Dustin Wolf Flames

USA's greatest strength may be in goal. Knight posted a .931 save percentage in 33 games at Boston College last season and is expected to take the No. 1 spot. Meanwhile, Wolf won CHL Goaltender of the Year in 2020 after a dominant campaign with the Everett Silvertips that saw him post a 34-10-2 record along with a .935 clip and 1.88 goals-against average.

The United States is coming off a disappointing sixth-place finish at last year's event in Ostrava, Czech Republic. USA's quest for redemption starts on Christmas with a heavyweight tilt versus Russia.

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Bruins’ McAvoy ‘still sad’ mentor Krug left in free agency

Professional sports is a business, but fans often forget the human element. Player movement is constant, and friendships can be disrupted in the blink of an eye.

Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy learned that the hard way this offseason when Torey Krug signed with the St. Louis Blues.

"'TK' was one of the first people who took me under his wing right away from the moment I got there," McAvoy told the "Cam & Strick Podcast," according to NHL.com. "We still work out (in the summers). He's just an unbelievable guy. Everybody (in St. Louis) is going to love him. … I'm still sad that he's not on our team, honestly."

Krug spent nine seasons with the Bruins, tallying 337 points across 523 games. He inked a seven-year deal carrying an average annual value of $6.5 million with the Blues on Oct. 9 when free agency opened.

It didn't appear as though Krug was eager to leave Boston. He was blunt following his signing, with the veteran saying he didn't even receive an offer from the Bruins.

McAvoy believes Krug's presence will be missed dearly.

"It definitely doesn't really feel real, showing up to training camp that he's not going to be there," the 22-year-old said. "(St. Louis) got a (really good) hockey player.

"He's an unbelievably gifted defenseman, especially on the offensive side of the puck. He just sees the game so well. He's going to make the Blues a very good hockey team."

Zdeno Chara also remains unsigned while pondering his future, which means Boston's blue line could look vastly different in 2021. Here's the team's projected top six:

LD RD
Matt Grzelcyk Charlie McAvoy
Jeremy Lauzon Brandon Carlo
John Moore Connor Clifton

McAvoy has already become one of the league's better two-way defenders. Now with three years already under his belt, many are projecting a breakout season for him offensively, especially if he gets some of Krug's power-play time.

"I'm definitely excited to be where I am and with this team," McAvoy said. "And I'm not really sure what's going to happen. This is kind of like a weird place to be. I (haven't) been in this position since I've been here where it kind of looks like we're restructuring a little bit on the back end.

"No one knows what's going to happen to (Chara) and all that. But whatever the challenge is, I know that I'll be ready for it."

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