Report: Canucks make progress on Hughes, Pettersson negotiations

The Vancouver Canucks are inching closer toward signing their two key restricted free agents.

Vancouver made progress Thursday morning in contract talks with Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes' agent, sources told The Athletic's Thomas Drance.

Both players are represented by Pat Brisson of CAA Sports, according to PuckPedia.

The Canucks have $13.7 million in cap space, but they can create $3.5 million in additional flexibility if they place Micheal Ferland on long-term injured reserve, according to CapFriendly.

Pettersson, the 2019 Calder Trophy winner, recorded 21 points in 26 games during an injury-plagued 2020-21 campaign and is expected to center the team's top line.

Hughes, the Calder runner-up in 2020, amassed 41 points in 56 contests last season and is projected to anchor the club's top defense pairing.

The pair have been skating together in Michigan with Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk - another RFA holdout - to stay in game shape.

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Report: Maple Leafs sign Keefe to 2-year extension

The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed head coach Sheldon Keefe to a two-year contract extension, sources told TSN's Pierre LeBrun.

Keefe was entering the final year of his previous deal. His new contract will run through the 2023-24 campaign.

The 41-year-old took over for Mike Babcock during the 2019-20 season. In parts of two years with the Leafs, Keefe has led the team to a 62-29-12 regular-season record and a division title in 2020-21. His .660 points percentage is the best in franchise history, edging out Frank Carroll and Pat Quinn.

However, Keefe has been unable to get the team over the hump in the playoffs. Toronto lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets during the qualifying round of the 2020 postseason before collapsing in the first round of the 2021 playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens.

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Bell Centre allowed full capacity for start of Canadiens’ season

One of the NHL's loudest rinks will be at max volume for the start of the 2021-22 campaign.

Quebec health authorities are lifting some COVID-19 restrictions within the province, and as a result, the Bell Centre will be allowed to operate at full capacity by the time the Montreal Canadiens drop the puck on their regular season, according to The Canadian Press.

Fans in Montreal will be required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks.

Last week, the NHL said it expected all arenas except for the Bell Centre and Rogers Arena - home of the Vancouver Canucks - to host at full capacity this season. In the memo, the league said the Canadiens could fill a maximum of 33% of seats.

Quebec officials allowed a portion of fans into the Bell Centre this past summer as the Canadiens marched to the Stanley Cup Final.

Montreal's first home game of the regular season is scheduled for Oct. 16 versus the New York Rangers.

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Ukrainian league GM says he was fired for condemning racism

Eugene Kolychev, general manager of the Ukrainian Hockey League, tweeted Thursday that he's been fired for speaking out against racism in the wake of the Jalen Smereck incident.

Kolychev added he's going to appeal his dismissal to the IIHF.

The UHL has been the center of attention in the hockey world this week after Andri Deniskin, a forward for HK Kremenchuk, mimed peeling and eating a banana at Smereck, a Black defenseman who plays for HC Donbass.

Deniskin was suspended 13 games for his actions. Smereck previously said he wouldn't play another game in the UHL until Deniskin "is suspended and removed from the league." Smereck later added his "heart dropped" when he learned of how light Deniskin's discipline was.

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Red Wings’ Vrana to miss 4 months after shoulder surgery

Detroit Red Wings forward Jakub Vrana will undergo shoulder surgery and is expected to miss at least four months, head coach Jeff Blashill announced Thursday.

Detroit acquired Vrana at last season's trade deadline in a blockbuster deal that sent Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals.

Vrana instantly fit into the Red Wings' top six, registering 11 points across 11 games to close out his 2020-21 campaign. He inked a three-year contract worth $15.75 million with Detroit in August.

The rebuilding Red Wings begin their regular season on Oct. 14 versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Coyotes become 1st NHL team to fully relax game-day dress code

The Arizona Coyotes will be the first NHL team to utilize a fully relaxed dress code, according to an ESPN survey of all 32 franchises.

The NHL is the only major North American league that carries a strict dress code. Exhibit 14, Paragraph 5 of the collective bargaining agreement states: "Players are required to wear jackets, ties and dress pants to all club games and while traveling to and from such games unless otherwise specified by the head coach or general manager."

Coyotes chief brand officer Alex Meruelo Jr. floated the idea of ditching suits to the team last season, and they're going to run with it full time in 2021-22.

"(Meruelo) is very open to the idea of going to the game and growing our fan base and anything we can do to be a little unique and different, they're always open to trying different things," Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun said to ESPN's Emily Kaplan.

"To be the first team to go no dress code was awesome. The guys loved it. I think it's great to be able to show a bit of your personality and your closet other than just your suits. I had fun with it. I enjoyed it. I'm glad it's something we'll continue to do."

The NHL allowed players to dress as they wished for the 2020 bubble playoffs in Toronto and Edmonton but went back to traditional rules last season.

Sources told Kaplan that the NHLPA has been pushing for a league-wide change to dress code rules so players can express their personalities and help build individual brands.

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6 NHL milestones within striking distance this season

With the NHL returning to an 82-game schedule, players will have more chances to reach historic moments compared to last year's 56 contests.

Who's going to hit the 1,000-point mark next? How long will it take Alex Ovechkin to climb the all-time goals list this season (spoiler alert - not long)?

Here are six major milestones up for grabs this year. Buckle up, it's going to be a fun ride.

Fleury: On his way to 500 career wins

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Much-adored Chicago Blackhawks netminder Marc-Andre Fleury is just eight victories away from adding his name to the exclusive 500 career wins club. Once he pulls it off, he'll join Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur as the only goalies to accomplish the feat.

Catching Roy and Brodeur, who have 551 and 691 wins, respectively, seems to be out of the cards for now. However, Fleury has 132 more victories than Carey Price, who's his closest competition among active netminders.

Ovechkin: Top 3 on all-time goals list

Patrick McDermott / National Hockey League / Getty

Another year, another potential breakthrough for Ovechkin. He was on the cusp of being in the top five on the all-time goals list last season, but the Washington Capitals superstar fell just short. He potted 24 taillies in 2020-21 to bring his career total to 730, just one goal behind Marcel Dionne in the No. 5 spot.

Clearly, Ovechkin will score more than one goal this season, so he's a lock for the top five. Beyond that, he needs 12 goals to surpass No. 4 Brett Hull, but why stop there? Ovechkin can overtake Jaromir Jagr for sole possession of No. 3 on the list if he scores 37 goals.

Ovechkin has recorded fewer than 37 goals in a season just four times in his career - one of those came during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign and another during last season's pandemic-altered schedule. The career-worst 24 goals he scored in 2020-21 would have put him on pace for 44 tallies over 82 games.

Additionally, with three more game-winning goals, Ovechkin can pass Phil Esposito for No. 3 on that all-time list.

Ovechkin's even got a shiny new contract that starts in 2021-22. He went off for 56 goals in the first year of his new deal the last time he signed on the dotted line. Sure, that was during the 2008-09 season and he isn't that young anymore, but it isn't wise to doubt the 36-year-old's abilities.

Expect Ovechkin to be on this list again next campaign as he chases Wayne Gretzky's goal record.

Spezza, Backstrom, and Getzlaf: 1,000 points

Kevin Sousa / National Hockey League / Getty

You get 1,000 points, and you get 1,000 points, and you get 1,000 points!

Three players can realistically eclipse the 1,000-point marker this season: Jason Spezza, Nicklas Backstrom, and Ryan Getzlaf.

Getzlaf is the closest of the trio to the milestone. Last campaign, the Anaheim Ducks captain posted 17 points across 48 games to reach 982 career points. Even though his best playing days are behind him, it's looking like he'll achieve the mark barring any injuries in 2021-22. Also in Getzlaf's sights is the Ducks' all-time scoring record as he's seven points away from passing Teemu Selanne for first place.

Next up is Backstrom, who's 20 points away from hitting 1,000. Ovechkin's right-hand man scores about 70 points a season, and his career average of 0.97 points per game puts him 10th among active NHL players, per Hockey Reference. In short, Backstrom's a shoo-in to get into the 1,000-point club. The only thing that could make it better is if he reaches the landmark with an assist on a milestone goal for Ovechkin.

Finally, Spezza only needs 30 points to hit the mark. Endearingly nicknamed "Vintage," the 38-year-old has rediscovered his scoring touch while playing for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. In two campaigns with the club, he's produced at roughly a 40-point pace over an 82-game season. Spezza's 0.56 points per game in 2020-21 was the most among skaters averaging less than 12 minutes of ice time per contest who played in at least 10 games. If he keeps it up, passing 1,000 points shouldn't be a problem.

Marchand: Top 10 on all-time shorthanded goals list

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Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand is a menace in all situations, but especially on the penalty kill. He's currently 20th on the NHL's all-time shorthanded goals list with 31, but he'll tie Theo Fleury and Dirk Graham for ninth if he scores four more.

Although his career average is three shorthanded goals per season, this feat is entirely attainable for Marchand this year. He potted four shorties across 53 contests in 2020-21, which is a six-goal pace over an 82-game season. He's registered five shorthanded tallies in a campaign twice in his career. The only time he's failed to score on the penalty kill in a season was when he played just 20 games during the 2009-10 campaign.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this milestone is the fact he's the only active NHL player in the top 70. Patrice Bergeron and Andrew Cogliano, who each have 20 shorthanded goals, are Marchand's closest competition among current NHLers.

Maurice: No. 5 all time in coaching wins

Jonathan Kozub / National Hockey League / Getty

The all-time leader in losses as a head coach is also approaching the top five in wins.

Winnipeg Jets bench boss Paul Maurice is 21 victories away from passing Al Arbor for the No. 5 spot on the coaching victories list. Once he does, he'll trail only Ken Hitchcock, Barry Trotz, Joel Quenneville, and Scotty Bowman, which is pretty decent company.

Maurice began his coaching career in 1995 and is also only 44 contests away from joining Bowman, Quenneville, and Trotz as the only people to coach 1,700 NHL games.

Prior to landing in Winnipeg, the 54-year-old also spent time with the Carolina Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, and Hartford Whalers.

Sabres: New playoff drought record

Kevin Hoffman / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Who said all milestones have to be good?

The Buffalo Sabres are on a seemingly inevitable collision course with the longest NHL playoff drought ever. The Sabres haven't made the postseason since the 2010-11 campaign, and a return to the absolutely stacked Atlantic Division this year certainly isn't going to do them any favors. Buffalo looks even more primed to miss the big dance for an 11th straight year when you add in the fact it won't have Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, and (probably) Jack Eichel in the lineup.

Last season, the Sabres tied two other teams for the longest playoff drought. The Florida Panthers shook off their demons in 2011-12 after a 10-year absence, while the Edmonton Oilers did the same in 2016-17.

The Sabres aren't going to be so lucky.


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Campbell: ‘No excuses’ for Maple Leafs this season

Jack Campbell knows the Toronto Maple Leafs face enormous pressure in 2021-22, but he believes yet another first-round elimination this past spring is all the motivation they need.

"There's no doubt in the desire to win and the things we're willing to do and just how much we care as a group," the netminder said of his team on the "NHL@TheRink" podcast Wednesday.

He added: "We're with the fans. We want it so bad. There's no excuses. We're using it to fuel us, and I think you'll see that, and you'll see it this season with the way we come out this year."

After finishing first the realigned North Division last season, the Maple Leafs blew a 3-1 first-round series lead versus the underdog Montreal Canadiens. It was the fifth straight year in which Toronto failed to win a series, extending a streak of postseason futility dating back to 2004.

Campbell isn't the first member of the club to make such comments this offseason. Hart Trophy finalist Auston Matthews claimed in August that the Maple Leafs' stretch of playoff anguish will make an eventual win "that much better." General manager Kyle Dubas said in July he's "willing to bet everything" on the core he's built breaking through this season.

Campbell took over as Toronto's starter last season, going 17-3-2 with a .921 save percentage before posting a .934 clip in the playoffs. It was his best campaign as a pro - but it wasn't enough for him.

"Ultimately, I had some personal success," the 29-year-old said. "But honestly, winning in the playoffs, that's our goal."

The Maple Leafs begin their regular season on Oct. 13 versus the Canadiens.

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