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‘NEVER apologized to our son’: Letter to Coyotes by mother of draft pick’s victim published

A day after The Arizona Republic released a sickening report that Coyotes 2020 fourth-round draft pick Mitchell Miller admitted to bullying a Black classmate with developmental disabilities four years ago, The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline obtained police records and letters written by Miller and the victim’s mother.

“Hello — I’m the mother of the boy that Mitchell Miller bullied,” began the letter from Joni Meyer-Crothers to the Coyotes organization days after the draft. “I read the statements made by the GM (Bill Armstrong) etc. and find them demeaning to our son. Are you aware Mitchell NEVER apologized to our son? Are you aware two years ago he still taunted him? Are you aware this went on for years? Do you understand the mental damage Mitchell did to our son?”

According to both reports, the abuse — which included racial slurs — started when Miller, Isaiah Meyer-Crothers and a third student were in second grade in Sylvania, Ohio, and continued into middle school, culminating in 2016 when the two boys got Meyer-Crothers to lick a push-pop that had been rubbed inside a urinal.

“I respect you stating he sent all the NHL teams an apology, but wouldn’t it make sense if he was truly remorseful to send a letter to the kid that he brutally bullied both mentally and physically?” the letter by Meyer-Crothers’ mother continued. “Is it a surprise he sent all the NHL teams a letter because this was for his betterment?”

The Athletic obtained the letter Miller sent to all 31 NHL teams where he stated he “is a different person” and was “thankful to have learned a very painful and valuable lesson.” Portzline stated that a few franchises were not convinced he was truly remorseful — something William Hutcheson, the juvenile magistrate who heard Miller’s case, told Miller in court and which Joni Meyer-Crothers noted in her letter.

“I guess as an organization and NHL team I would expect so much more and hold them to a higher standard, especially with all the (Black Lives Matter) movement,” Joni Meyer-Crothers’ letter continued. “As much as we pray Mitchell will eventually see the damage he did to our son, we have seen no remorse. The other gentleman had a sincere apology to our son and our son forgave him. The magistrate said it best: ‘Mitchell, I don’t think you are remorseful for what you did more than you are upset for the negative attention you are getting.’

“Again, the bully incident that continued over years has damaged our son mentally significantly and your organization is more concerned about Mitchell and your hockey success. In my opinion, that is being part of the problem. There is a victim out there that was and still at the hands of your 111th pick.”

While the Coyotes organization has not responded to her letter directly and it should be noted that Armstrong was not directly involved in Miller’s selection out the University of North Dakota because of an agreement with his former team, the Blues, the Coyotes did issue a statement when the Republic’s story came out  Monday.

(North Dakota released a statement to the Grand Forks Herald on Monday from head coach Brad Berry, who stated his program wants to “hone not only his hockey abilities but most importantly, assist him in his continuing growth as a human being which will last him the remainder of his life.”)

“Given our priorities on diversity and inclusion, we believe that we are in the best position to guide Mitchell into becoming a leader for this cause and preventing bullying and racism now and in the future,” the Coyotes’ statement read.

“As an organization, we have made our expectations very clear to him. We are willing to work with Mitchell and put in the time, effort, and energy and provide him with the necessary resources and platform to confront bullying and racism.

“This isn’t a story about excuses or justifications. It’s a story about reflection, growth, and community impact. A true leader finds ways for every person to contribute to the solution. We all need to be a part of the solution.”

Those actions remain to be seen.

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New Hampshire shuts down hockey after positive COVID tests for 158 people associated with sport

DOVER, N.H. — As 9-year-old Finn Horan was listening to a conversation his parents were having on speakerphone late Thursday afternoon that hockey was being shut down for two weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

Finn’s dad, Tim, was in the process of breaking the news to his family.

“To be honest I thought he was lying or trying to be funny,” Finn said. “Then I found out he wasn’t.”

Finn is a goalie for the Dover minor Squirts, the team Tim Horan coaches and was scheduled to make a trip to Waterville Valley last weekend for a game.

“I love hockey and I didn’t want anything to happen like this,” Finn said. “I was really, really shocked and surprised.”

Gov. Chris Sununu decided to suspend all hockey activities at indoor rinks for two weeks following positive COVID-19 tests for 158 people associated with the sport over the last two months. The cases are reportedly from 23 different hockey-related organizations and teams in New Hampshire.

Members of the Blackhawks, a peewee team out of the Rochester Youth Hockey League watch a game last season. Players include, from left, Jackson Leonard, Luke Holt, Riley Kondroski, Caden Smith and Luke Vittorioso.  (Photo: Handout)

Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, said “there are additional connections with out-of-state ice hockey organizations.” He also said people who have acquired the virus through hockey have been associated with, and potentially exposed others, in at least 24 different K-12 schools throughout the state.

“We’re a hockey family,” Tim Horan said. “We’re disappointed to be without it. I can’t say I was surprised seeing how things were being handled in other areas. Hopefully, it will be a short break and we’ll get back to it.”

Rinks will be cleaned and sanitized and guidance on the sport will be revised and more testing will be conducted. The suspension, which also affects ice skating in general, is in effect until Oct. 29.

'We love it. We live it.'

College team activity is also on hold, in addition to youth and amateur organizations.

“We’ll do what we have to do to make sure the kids are safe,” Tim Horan said. “I feel it reached a point where the governor had to step in and slow (the spread) down a little bit.”

Bill LeDuc is president of Rochester Youth Hockey, which had been going for about two and a half weeks. Teams practice three times a week with games on weekends.

“We have to follow all the guidelines and implement them to get the kids back in arenas and indoors safely,” he said. “It’s important for everybody. We’ve had conferences and calls with other rinks and each other. It’s a fluid situation for everybody and we’re no different.”

The stoppage has had a trickle-down effect.

“It’s a huge disappointment,” LeDuc said. “Hockey is near and dear to family and friends. We love it. We live it. It’s a very big disappointment for the kids. It’s something they look forward to every week. We’ll continue to follow the guidelines in order to give the kids a season.”

Spaulding High School hockey coach Jamie Ferullo said his players aren’t allowed to take the ice as a team until the Monday after Thanksgiving. However, many are playing Midget hockey for the Rochester youth organization.

“It’s an important time of year to get back into hockey shape but it’s about keeping the kids safe and we’ll do whatever we have to, to have a high school hockey season,” he said.

Some parents disagree with decision

Jeff Routhouska, whose son Cameron plays for the Dover-based Seacoast Spartans Elite Squirt squad, disagrees with the shutdown and believes the issue has been politicized.

“I understand people on both sides,” Routhouska said. “It’s a real thing. It’s not fabricated. My biggest problem with the whole thing is that the governor is taking away another choice. You can’t go to school. Now you shut down sports. What’s next? It’s kind of ridiculous to shut down an entire program for one or two positive results. Our civil liberties are being taken away.”

Matthew Roy, president of the New Hampshire Amateur Hockey Association, said the group on Friday put out a statement discouraging youth groups from going out of state to play.

Dan Toland is vice president of Dover Youth Hockey.

“It was disappointing,” he said of the stoppage. “It’s tough. I certainly understand it but it’s tough to hear. Generally speaking, we’ve been conservative but it felt like every day or every week something new was popping up. We were always concerned about schools going back and what the impact would be.”

Toland’s son, Danny, plays for the Squirt 9-10s.

“We had a couple games this weekend so he was bummed,” Toland said. “We worked really hard but we know there’s no way to eliminate the risk.”

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Longtime Sharks star Joe Thornton to pursue Stanley Cup with Maple Leafs

The one thing missing in Joe Thornton's star-studded career is a Stanley Cup.

Thornton, 41, will pursue that trophy with the Toronto Maple Leafs, signing a one-year deal Friday at the NHL minimum salary of $700,000 after spending 15 years with the San Jose Sharks.

The closest he came to a championship was in 2016, when the Sharks lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final. But the Sharks had the bottom drop out last season after reaching the conference final in 2018-19.

Thornton, a native of Ontario and former league MVP, is the NHL's leading active scorer, ranking 14th all-time with 1,509 points. But with 31 points last season, the playmaker will have a depth role in Toronto.

We’ve got a JUMBO announcement 👀

Joe Thornton has signed a one-year contract! #LeafsForever

Details: https://t.co/ZfHrvgA7FBpic.twitter.com/GLKDyXfvNb

The Maple Leafs, who haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967, have been busy this offseason, adding defensemen T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian and forwards Jimmy Vesey and Wayne Simmonds.

Sharks star Brent Burns tweeted that the Maple Leafs have "a great one coming" to their team.

Daaaamn…. going to miss a lot more then just laughing with this guy… ultimate teammate, friend and guy to learn [email protected] got a great one coming! pic.twitter.com/S0WMD3aHy7

Toronto will now have three former No. 1 picks in the lineup with Auston Matthews (2016), John Tavares (2009) and Thornton (1997).

Thornton, who was drafted by the Boston Bruins and traded to Sharks in 2005-06, is entering his 23rd season. 

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NHL free agency rumors: Joe Thornton playing in Switzerland, Maple Leafs next?

With the uncertainty of the next season, we’ll call it the 2021 season now, Joe Thornton has opted to lace up his skates in Switzerland.

The 41-year-old veteran, or legend as HC Davos called him when they announced his return on social media, returns to the team for his third stint. He played for the Swiss squad back in 2004-05 when the NHL was in a lockout and in 2012-13 for a short stint before the shortened season started after another labor dispute. Thornton met his wife Tabea in Switzerland during his first tenure and they returned during the offseason.

In 73 games he’s racked up 90 points (22 goals, 68 assists) and helped lead the club to the league’s championship and the Spengler Cup. During that 2004-05 season, he teamed up with fellow NHLers Rick Nash and Niklas Hagman. 

Circling back to the NHL, the big question, for now, is where will “Jumbo Joe” play when the season does resume. An unrestricted free-agent, Thornton may be ending his 15-year tenure in San Jose.

Back in February, he expressed his disappointment at not being moved to a Stanley Cup contender at the deadline — like his buddy Patrick Marleau was to the Penguins.

“I wanted a shot, you know? Believe it or not. I’ve been hunting this thing down for 22 years, so I wanted another shot at it,” he said the next day, per The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz. “I wanted to get something (for the Sharks) in return. It just didn’t work out. Back to the grind, and that’s how it is.”

Marleau re-signed with the Sharks on Tuesday, but some are speculating that the non-move left a bad taste in Thornton’s mouth. There’s also speculation that he may be heading to the Maple Leafs.

“My understanding is both Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe have talked to Joe Thornton about the Leafs’ interest in him and, so, I think it’s genuine,” TSN’s Pierre LeBrun recently told Andi Petrillo and Craig Button on TSN Radio 1050’s Leafs Lunch.

“The Leafs did approach him in 2017,” LeBrun added. “At the time they were trying to get both Joe and Marleau. But what’s interesting is at that time was a Mike Babcock-Lou Lamoriello. … This time around it’s Dubas and Keefe.”

Of course, Thornton has been a San Jose Shark longer than his beard can grow, and cutting ties with his home since 2005 could be tough. But the Sharks are amid a rebuild and with time winding down for the future Hall of Famer a move may be just what Father Time ordered.

Is a move east — and about a two-hour car ride from where he grew up in St. Thomas, Ont., — the right one? Well, the Leafs could use him. Keefe’s squad severely underperformed in the qualifying round and couldn’t rebound when trailing in games — one game notwithstanding. Having Thornton, who has been on deep playoff runs, including a Cup Final, and is a loud, vocal presence in the locker room and on the bench, could just be what the team needs to rebound in tight games.

They also need a third-line center. With their personnel at the moment, Alex Kerfoot is slotted in at that position, and while he did an admirable job in the postseason sandwiched between Kasperi Kapanen (who has since been traded) and either Ilya Mikheyev or youngster Nick Robertson, Thornton would be an upgrade. Andreas Johnsson, who skated with Kerfoot and Kapanen during the season but missed the bubble with a knee injury, was traded to the Devils.

Sure, Thornton only collected 31 points in 70 games during the 2019-20 truncated season, but the previous year he had 51 in 73. His linemates of Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorenson also showed a lack of production, but when you look at 5v5, they actually had a 55.40 percent Corsi For and a 55.26 percent Scoring Chances For (per Natural Stat Trick). It should be noted that Thornton is also a key power-play guy and his insertion into the unit would definitely not hurt an already powerful power-play group.

Considering that Keefe has reportedly spoken to Thornton is a sign that they want “Jumbo” in a Leafs sweater; after all, when a coach calls and says (presumably), “Hey, this is how you’ll fit and get us to the promised land,” it definitely gets the wheels spinning. Now it’s up to Thornton to decide what’s next. But for now, he’s gearing up to dominate in the Alps.

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Grades for every big NHL free-agent signing: How does Holtby fit in Vancouver?

NHL free agency for 2020 is underway!

For each key signing, Emily Kaplan, Chris Peters and Greg Wyshynski will be assessing the player’s fit with his new team, weighing whether the terms of the contract make sense, and serving up an overall grade.

We’ll be grading the most notable offseason signings below, so come back for updates as deals are completed throughout the fall.


Braden Holtby, G, Vancouver Canucks

Terms: Two years, $8.6 million

Where does he fit? There’s no way to evaluate this signing without examining who Holtby is replacing, and why. Jacob Markstrom was, by some measures, the best goaltender in the NHL last season. He was an effective last line of defense behind a young team still figuring out how to play championship-level defense. Under the right conditions, Markstrom would have been the Canucks’ goaltender next season and for seasons to come. The reason Holtby is now with the Canucks instead of Markstrom is because those conditions weren’t right.

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NHL free-agency danger ratings: Which players are the most risky?

    Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

If I were an NHL general manager, I’d be the loneliest man alive.

My colleagues would ostracize me. I would be swiftly deleted from holiday card lists. I’d have to sit near Seattle and Vegas in the annual meetings. This is because, when it comes to free agents, I would not adhere to the culture norms of decorum. I would paper their restricted guys with offer sheets like it was confetti at a wedding. Why waste time and treasure going after the unrestricted free agents who are pushing 30 when you can chase a franchise player in his early 20s, right?

Alas, offer sheets happen once every several years, or whenever someone thinks Tom Dundon is too cheap to match one. (Spoiler: He’s not.) The unrestricted free-agent frenzy remains the preferred path to find a difference-maker — even though that market is fraught with danger.

Here’s a look at 10 NHL unrestricted free agents hitting the market this week and their “danger ratings,” with 1 being a benign signing that will help your team, and 10 being the kind of thing that gets GMs fired.


Alex Pietrangelo, D
Danger rating: 3

Pietrangelo turns 31 on Jan. 18. There’s no getting around the fact that he’s about three years older than your typical belle of the free-agent defenseman ball. He has played 758 games over 12 seasons and 92 more in the playoffs, all with the same franchise. So there’s at least a little concern that his 0.74 points-per-game average this season could be a high-water mark — despite not being enough to earn him his first Norris Trophy nomination, for unknown reasons.

There have been elite defensemen who played into their mid-30s with a gradual decline, rather than falling off cliff like a statistical Wile E. Coyote. Look at Shea Weber and Brent Burns. Recall Chris Pronger and Dan Boyle. If you sign Alex Pietrangelo, and get four to five good years out him while challenging for the Stanley Cup — which should be the only reason you’re signing Alex Pietrangelo — then it was a signing worth making. And even in his diminished capacities as an elder statesman defenseman, his intangibles are an asset.

The only concern we have for him isn’t age, but location. If he leaves St. Louis, it’ll be for the first time as a pro. Eventually, new environs become familiar. But there’s going to be a lot of culture shock for him and his family, combined with a new set of teammates and expectations.

Taylor Hall, LW
Danger rating: 5

Was Hall’s 2017-18, 93-point, Hart Trophy-snagging campaign an outlier? Yes. Is Hall better than what he showed in 35 games with the Arizona Coyotes, in which he was a sub-replacement-level player and continued a season-long trend of uncharacteristically weak 5-on-5 defensive play? Yes.

OK … make that “hopefully.”

The danger for a team signing Taylor Hall is expecting him to be TAYLOR HALL, which is what the Coyotes were thinking when they acquired him from the Devils. He’s a perfect complementary star at this stage in his career, a potent ingredient to add to an already simmering stew. He’s the answer on left wing for the Boston Bruins’ second line or the guy taking passes from Matt Duchene in Nashville. He’s the player you fold into a power play commanded by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The danger is also that Hall, despite being open to all manner and sort of contracts in these uncertain times, is going to command money and term that outstrips that role. Evolving Hockey thinks seven years and $8.54 million average annual value at a minimum. On a good team, he might have to come in a little lower. And wouldn’t it be nice to finally see Hall on a good team?

Jacob Markstrom, G
Danger rating: 6

Markstrom was the best goalie in the league last season. That’s not me saying it, and it certainly wasn’t the Vezina Trophy voters saying it. That’s according to Clear Sight Analytics, which manually tracks and plot shots against goaltenders. As Daniel Wagner notes in a great breakdown of Markstrom’s season with the Vancouver Canucks, CSA has him rated first in the NHL in save percentage above expectation. (Wagner notes that the proprietary nature of CSA’s stats make this boast hard to face check.)

Not everyone agrees. Evolving Hockey had him 11th in goals saved above average per 60 (0.277), which still quite good. Sean Tierney notes his underperformance vs. expected goals and calls the goalie “a stay-away, I think.”

Markstrom has been a good starter for three years running, but he was elite last season … which, not coincidentally, was his contract year. If he leaves Vancouver for another team, he’s not going to suddenly turn into a sieve; but he’s also not going to be fourth for the Vezina. And if he does stay in Vancouver, it best not be with a no-move clause, GM Jim Benning.

Mike Hoffman, LW
Danger rating: 7

Remember when Hoffman as embroiled in a cyberbullying scandal involving a teammate and their significant others? Wild times.

Anyway, Hoffman was a 29-goal scorer, with 11 of them coming as the trigger man on the Florida Panthers power play, but was a sub-replacement-level player overall. He’s a defensive liability who can pump the puck into the net: In his last 233 games, Hoffman has 108 even-strength points and is a minus-49. It’s hard to assign a danger rating to a player so glaring in his strengths and weaknesses that even the daftest general manager has to understand them. Stick Hoffman on the power play, start 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone and hope he shoots his way to being worth the investment.

Torey Krug, D
Danger rating: 7

There’s a little “what if Mike Hoffman, but a defenseman?” in Krug’s game, but that’s probably doing a disservice to his defense, in which he uses his stick and positioning to compensate for his stature. He’s an exceptional puck-moving defenseman and an offensive asset, as evidenced by his usage, starting over 60% of his shifts in the attacking zone on average for four straight seasons.

His best ability is as a power-play quarterback, with 82 points in 201 games since 2017, second to John Carlson (91) of the Washington Capitals among NHL defensemen. Carlson has Alex Ovechkin. Krug has had David Pastrnak, who actually scored more goals (50) than Ovechkin (48) on the power play in that span. So here is where things get murky: What kind of power-play conductor is Krug if the instruments are, say, Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin instead of Pastrnak and Brad Marchand?

Tyler Toffoli, LW
Danger rating: 6

How has Toffoli only crested over 30 goals once in his career, as a 23-year-old with the Los Angeles Kings in 2015-16? It’s because no matter how sterling one’s underlying numbers are — and Toffoli has some gaudy ones for expected goals and possession — it inevitably all comes down to how you finish.

He had three straight sub-10% shooting percentage seasons before bouncing back to 10.9% between the Kings and Canucks this season. He’ll fit snugly into someone’s top six and really make a difference as the wingman to a talented center. He’s at a point where he needs to make the most of his opportunities, figuratively and literally.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D
Danger rating: 3

It can’t be stressed enough how important Shattenkirk was to the Lightning’s Stanley Cup win. He had 13 points in 25 games, seeing an increase in average ice time (19:30) from the regular season. He built on his best defensive season in years by skating the puck out of trouble in his own end. Those couple of bum years in New York sullied his reputation, but he should be high on any contender’s list for veteran defensive help and a good guy to add to your dressing room.

Tyson Barrie, D
Danger rating: 4

Like Shattenkirk in New York, sometimes bad fits happen to good players. It didn’t work out for Barrie in Toronto, where his offense wasn’t good enough to cover up his historically deficient defense. But this isn’t a player who’s going to see a 12-point decline in power-play production again. Properly deployed and outside of the Toronto pressure cooker, Barrie should bounce back.

Braden Holtby, G
Danger rating: 8

Holtby’s last three seasons have been an absolute roller coaster, with the top of the climb coming in 2018-19 (15.5 goals saved above replacement) and the drop happening this season (0.9). There’s no question that whoever signs Holtby is paying for past performance. In particular, past playoff performance: Holtby is 50-47 in the playoffs with a .926 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average. That includes a .922 save percentage in leading Washington to the Stanley Cup in 2018.

He’s 31 now. It’s a weird look to have your worst season in your walk year, but here we are. We think he’s a platoon goalie now rather than someone starting 65 games, and that’s OK. In the right situation, on the right team, he can bounce back statistically. In the wrong situation, like having to carry too much of the defensive burden alone, it’s not a wise investment. He’s not that goalie anymore.

Henrik Lundqvist, G
Danger rating: 2

By all accounts, Lundqvist is going to replace Holtby with the Capitals — we’ve heard it’s a one-year deal, when an announcement can be made — and that’s a smart decision all around. Peter Laviolette’s system is goalie-friendly. The Capitals are a demonstrably better team than the Rangers squads that Lundqvist played behind in the past three seasons, when he amassed 28.7 goals saved above average. And the King actually saw an uptick in quality of play last season. On a short-term “buyout baby” contract and with something left in the tank as a tandem goalie, Lundqvist keeps within that grand tradition of Swedes, in that he’s nonthreatening.

The three weirdest NHL draft Zoom environments

1. Anaheim Ducks

Nothing says “welcome to your new home” like a speech with the stylistic approach of a totalitarian government in a post-apocalyptic action film.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs

The draft’s oddest co-star was Morgan Rielly, aka Mitch Marner’s security detail/sweater model. Although, admittedly, we are digging the “Dazed and Confused” era Matthew McConaughey look for the Leafs defenseman.

3 (tie). Vegas Golden Knights and Carolina Hurricanes

The Golden Knights and GM Kelly McCrimmon were at the Rock Creek Cattle Ranch in Montana with team owner Bill Foley. The Hurricanes and GM Don Waddell were inside their dressing room. Both general managers looked like your local drive-time sports talk radio host doing an on-site broadcast and hoping none of the listeners bother them.

Listen to ESPN On Ice

Emily Kaplan and I recap Day 1 of the NHL draft, which certainly had a different feel to it this year (4:30). Lightning head coach Jon Cooper talks about his Stanley Cup champion team and why the celebration was unique, but special (17:41). We then look ahead to NHL free agency and recap a few trades that have already taken place (38:18). P.K. Subban talks about his new partnership with Adidas and how he hopes hockey can become a more inclusive sport (49:21). Listen, rate and review here.

Winners and losers of the week

Winner: Yaroslav Askarov

He didn’t crack the top 10, but he’s the highest-drafted goalie in a decade and goes to an absolute goaltender factory in Nashville to develop.

Loser: Matt Murray

In 2017, the Penguins forced Marc-Andre Fleury out in order to make Murray their starting goaltender coming off their second straight Stanley Cup victory. Murray went 7-12 in his next 19 playoff games. In 2020, the Penguins traded Murray to the Ottawa Senators, handing the crease to Tristan Jarry. Tough business, this one.

Winner: Bridge contracts

Two good two-year deals were signed this week. Jesse Puljujarvi returns to Edmonton now that everyone who messed up his development is out of there. Max Domi, traded to Columbus by Montreal, gets a two-year “show me” contract to try to become the Blue Jackets’ No. 2 center. Excited to see what both players end up doing.

Loser: Bridge building

The Hockey Diversity Alliance works best as a watchdog and ombudsman for the NHL’s racial diversity and justice efforts. But the news that the HDA is stepping away from its relationship with the NHL is still discouraging, especially with the organization going from getting featured during the postseason to claiming that the NHL is “focused on performative public relations efforts that seemed aimed at quickly moving past important conversations about race needed in the game.”

Winner: Nepotism

Congrats to Kris Draper of the Detroit Red Wings and Jamie Langenbrunner of the Boston Bruins on drafting their 18-year-old sons Kienan and Mason. What is the NHL if not a place of bloodlines and familial advantages?

Loser: The draft floor

I’ve covered every NHL draft since Columbus in 2007. It’s one of my favorite events, from the “last day of school” vibe to chatting up NHL team executives in a leisurely setting. I love watching the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of young hockey players achieving their dreams. I love the buzz in the building as trade rumors swirl. In the bigger picture, we’ve lost much, much more significant things to the coronavirus pandemic. Having the draft go virtual this year was, in context, a necessity, but still a bummer.

Puck headlines

  • Yikes: Eighteen members of a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team have tested positive for the coronavirus and have been placed in isolation for 14 days.

  • A look at how hockey locker rooms are being sanitized in the COVID era.

  • The good news is that the Southern Professional Hockey League is planning a season. The bad news is that it will only have five teams after five opted to sit out.

  • I don’t know, maybe don’t bring a rifle to a youth hockey game?

  • “NHL 21” is going retro, as you can play today’s teams in “NHL 94” 8-bit glory.

  • Good piece by Ryan Clark on the trailblazing Quinton Byfield: “There were plenty of times as a child when he was the only player of color on his team. Yet he said he never faced the kind of racism he knows many other players of color have faced throughout Canada and the U.S.”

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

Chris Peters with the grades for all 31 teams in the NHL draft.

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Trade grades: Analyzing the Penguins’ return for Matt Murray

The NHL’s trade season is already underway, as teams begin to shape their rosters ahead of the 2020-21 regular season — slated to start on Jan. 1, 2021 — and, of course, the looming threat of the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken, which will take place next offseason.

We’ll assess the GMs on both sides for all of the big moves here, with the most recent trades listed first.

Note: Advanced statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey. Cap and contract figures courtesy of CapFriendly.

Penguins trade goalie Matt Murray to Senators

Pittsburgh Penguins get: F Jonathan Gruden, No. 52 overall pick (used on G Joel Blomqvist)
Ottawa Senators get: G Matt Murray

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Kings’ Quinton Byfield on NHL Draft milestone for Black players: ‘Something special’

Quinton Byfield became the highest-drafted Black player in NHL history on Tuesday when the Los Angeles Kings took him No. 2 overall in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Given the sport’s ongoing struggles to diversify its talent — as well as the noted difficulties its few Black players have experienced — the milestone carried symbolic meaning that wasn’t lost on the 18-year-old center.

“That’s something special,” Byfield told reporters. “Being in the record books for anything is definitely super special, but that especially. My dad and mom didn’t play hockey or didn’t have too much knowledge about that. Kind of just growing the game together. I think it just shows that there’s a lot of opportunity for everyone in the world and that you can play every sport and be successful in it.”

This summer, NHL players protested racial inequality by declining to take part in Stanley Cup playoff games for two days. While that action came after players in other leagues, such as MLB and the NBA, called off games, it still represented a tone shift from the way hockey has typically approached social issues.

There have been protests throughout North America since late May, primarily in response to police violence toward Black people.

Byfield has been playing in the Ontario Hockey League for the Sudbury Wolves, and while he understands the historic significance of being a highly touted Black prospect, he also is focused on excelling on the ice.

“I’m definitely excited to help out and spread as much awareness as I can, but tonight really just thinking about the draft,” Byfield said. “I’ve worked my whole life for that and just excited about that really right now.”

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Rangers select Lafreniere with No. 1 overall pick

    Chris Peters is ESPN’s NHL draft and prospects analyst. The Chicago native previously covered the NHL for CBSSports.com and founded the popular independent blog UnitedStatesofHockey.com where he covered the game at all levels since 2010.

The New York Rangers selected left wing Alexis Lafreniere of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic with the first pick in the 2020 NHL draft on Tuesday. The Rangers had never previously selected with the first overall pick in the entry draft era, which began in 1979.

Lafreniere, who will turn 19 on Sunday, was the consensus top prospect in this draft class after putting together a remarkable and decorated season between his efforts with Rimouski in a shortened season and for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. He led the QMJHL in scoring with 112 points in just 52 games, earning league MVP honors for the second straight season. His 2.15 points per game average was the highest across Canada’s top three junior leagues since Connor McDavid had 2.50 in his final season in the OHL in 2014-15.

Additionally, Lafreniere was named the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year for the second straight season, joining Sidney Crosby as the only other player to win that award twice. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound winger overcame a mid-tournament injury to lead Canada to the gold medal at the 2020 World Junior Championship, scoring 10 points in just five games on the way to earning MVP honors.

A forward with an uncommon combination of elite skill and physicality, Lafreniere has been among the most prized prospects of the 2001 birth year for some time. He was the QMJHL’s rookie of the year in his first season in 2017-18, and he will finish his career in Quebec’s top junior circuit with 297 points in 173 games.

Lafreniere represents one of the final pieces to the rebuild puzzle for the Rangers, who have assembled one of the strongest prospect pools in the NHL over the past three seasons. He will join a roster that includes a Hart Trophy finalist in Artemi Panarin, one of the most promising goalies in the game in Igor Shesterkin and last year’s No. 2 overall pick on the opposite wing, Kaapo Kakko.

The Rangers earned the top pick in the draft after the Carolina Hurricanes swept them out of the qualification round of the NHL’s unique postseason setup. New York was among eight eliminated teams with a 12.5% chance to earn the No. 1 overall pick.

At No. 2, the Los Angeles Kings selected center Quinton Byfield of the Ontario Hockey League. And at No. 3, the Ottawa Senators chose forward Tim Stutzle of Germany.

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NHL, players association targeting Jan. 1 start date for 2020-21 season

The NHL and its players association have targeted Jan. 1, 2021 as the start date for the 2020-21 regular season, they announced in a joint statement on Tuesday.

The news — originally reported by Sportsnet hockey reporter and NHL Network insider Elliotte Friedman — does not guarantee the league will start on Jan. 1, but does replace the league’s previous preferred date of Dec. 1.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hinted at a potential new target date for the 2020-21 season at his state of the league news conference prior to the end of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final between Tampa Bay and Dallas. During that address, he also suggested a desire to play a full 82-game regular-season schedule.

The NHL concluded its season on Sept. 28 as the Lightning secured its second Stanley Cup championship with a 4-2 series win over the Stars: over three months removed from its typical late May/early June end date. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, forced the league to postpone its 2019-20 season on March 12; the NHL resumed play on Aug. 1, which included “bubbles” inside Toronto and Edmonton.

The league typically has a roughly four-month break between the end of the previous season’s Stanley Cup Final and Opening Day of the ensuing season; that break will be shortened by one month if the NHL ends up going forward with its Jan. 1 target date.

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