The NHL’s 2020 draft lottery explained: Everything you need to know

    Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced a new format for the 2020 NHL draft lottery as part of the league’s “return to play” plans for completing the 2019-20 season this summer. This version will retain some aspects of previous lotteries, with important updates to account for the unprecedented nature of this season.

It was a lot to digest, and represents some bold changes from previous draft lotteries. You probably have some questions, and we’re here to provide the answers:

How many picks are determined by this new lottery format?

The NHL announced that the top three picks in the 2020 draft will be determined in three separate draws, which has been the format for the draft since 2016. There had been speculation that only the first pick would be chosen via the lottery, and that there might be restrictions on how many spots a team could jump should they win the lottery. Instead, the NHL essentially stuck with its current lottery format for the top three picks.

How many teams are in the 2020 NHL draft lottery?

There are 15 teams in the lottery. They include the seven teams that would not take part in the 24-team, conference-based tournament should the NHL return this summer to complete its season: The Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks (whose pick belongs to Ottawa), Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres.

The other eight teams eligible for the top picks are the ones that lose in the “qualification round” of the postseason, i.e. the No. 5 seed through the No. 12 seed in each conference. Those teams will take part in a second draft lottery before the 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, if necessary.

Wait, there are two draft lotteries?

Maybe! The NHL is going to hold a draft lottery on Friday, June 26. There will be three draws. The seven teams that aren’t returning to play will take part. There will be eight “placeholder” spots eligible to win the lotteries, too. The 15 teams’ involvement will maintain previously established lottery odds.

As per usual, the winning team from the first draw will no longer be eligible for the second or third draws. All number combinations originally assigned to this team will become “re-draw combinations” for the second and third draws. The remaining teams’ odds will increase on a proportionate basis for the second draw based on which team wins the first draw.

If three non-qualification round teams win all three of the top picks, we end there with just one lottery drawing. Those teams would own the top three picks, and the rest of the draft order would be determined by the current standings points percentages of non-return to play teams, as well as the teams eliminated in the qualification round.

However, if any of the “placeholder” spots wins a draw for one of the top three picks, then we’re going to have a second draft lottery, which will be held between the end of the qualification round and the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoff quarterfinals. That draft would feature the eight teams eliminated in the qualifying round. In each Phase 2 draw, all participants will have the same odds. The team that wins that lottery would then win the highest “placeholder” spot in the top three. If another “Phase 2” draw is necessary, the first team’s numbered lottery ball will be removed.

Can we have an example?

Let’s say, for the sake of Red Wings fans, that Detroit wins the lottery on June 26. But the winners for the second and third overall picks are “placeholders” for teams that are in the qualification round. A second draft will be held after those teams are eliminated, and only those eight eliminated teams would be eligible for the second and third overall picks. Which brings us to a potential problem with this format.

What’s the problem with the format?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are fifth in the Eastern Conference with a .623 points percentage, which is the seventh best in the NHL. They had a 92% chance of making the playoffs if the regular season had been completed, per Moneypuck. The Edmonton Oilers are fifth in the Western Conference with a .585 points percentage. They had a 93.3% chance of making the playoffs had the season been completed.

If Pittsburgh loses in the qualification round to the Montreal Canadiens and the Oilers lose to the Chicago Blackhawks — and neither of those results is that outlandish — there’s a chance that presumptive No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafrenière could be receiving passes from either Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid next season, rather than serving as a foundational piece for a rebuild in Detroit or Ottawa.

This is not what the draft, nor the draft lottery, intends to do in a typical season. But this season is anything but typical.

What are the draft lottery odds for the first draw on June 26?

Via the NHL, here they are:

1. Detroit Red Wings: 18.5%
2. Ottawa Senators: 13.5%
3. Ottawa Senators*: 11.5%
4. Los Angeles Kings: 9.5%
5. Anaheim Ducks: 8.5%
6. New Jersey Devils: 7.5%
7. Buffalo Sabres: 6.5%
8. Team A: 6.0%
9. Team B: 5.0%
10. Team C: 3.5%
11. Team D: 3.0%
12. Team E: 2.5%
13. Team F: 2.0%
14. Team G: 1.5%
15. Team H: 1.0%

Keep in mind that Ottawa owns the Sharks’ No. 1 pick. The Sabres have a higher regulation/overtime winning percentage than the Devils, to break their points percentage tie (.493).

This seems like a lot of trouble to go through. Why not just hold a lottery for the non-qualification round teams?

Two reasons. While no doubt excited to play on in the qualification round, teams like Montreal (.500 points percentage) and Chicago (.514) would rather swap a chance at a top prospect for the honor of losing three more games in their seasons. So it was important to include teams in the process that would have likely missed the playoffs if the season was completed.

However, some of the NHL’s general managers were adamant about not creating a format where a team could both win the lottery and the Stanley Cup in the same season, as slim as those odds are. This tracks back to the NHL’s desire to hold the entry draft before the season was restarted, following the NFL’s success with its virtual draft. This new lottery format ensures that none of the teams that advance to the Round of 16 Stanley Cup tournament can win one of the first three picks, unless they hold an eliminated team’s first-round pick.

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New 3-on-3 hockey league, ‘3ICE,’ set to debut in 2021 with star-studded group of coaches

A few years ago at Pittsburgh Penguins rookie camp, E.J. Johnston observed the delight among a couple thousand fans as they watched a tournament of 3-on-3 contests. 

"It was electric," Johnston recalled. "It was end-to-end action. It was all the creativity, and goal-scoring and tic-tac-toe passing that hockey fans love."

The NHL's five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime period, instituted in 2015, gained almost immediate popularity and praise from hockey fans. Johnston — whose father Eddie won two Stanley Cups as a goaltender with the Boston Bruins and is a longtime member of the Penguins' front office — had an idea. If unknown prospects could entertain a crowd like that, Johnston thought, it could be hockey's next innovation.

Johnston is now the CEO and founder of "3ICE," a new 3-on-3 hockey league set to debut next year across North America, with several big-name coaches (six of them Hockey Hall of Famers) serving as the coaches of the eight inaugural teams. Craig Patrick, the assistant to Herb Brooks on the 1980 U.S. men's Olympic gold squad, is the league's commissioner. 

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'NOBODY SAW THIS COMING': Mega-complexes desperate to welcome youth sports back

The logo of the new 3-on-3 hockey league set to debut in 2021. (Photo: Courtesy: 3ICE)

“A conversation I had with my dad was, ‘We’re going to need somebody at the top of this,’" Johnston said. "And his first answer was Craig Patrick.”

Patrick's excitement was evident from the start; he played with Johnston's father before E.J. was even born, and their own relationship goes back 30 years. The founders are confident the breakneck style of play will attract both prospects and a fanbase. 

"We’re anticipating that we’re going to be able to have a lot of exciting hockey," Patrick said, "even more than the NHL’s overtime format, because we’re going to go for a lot of speed and skill throughout and we’re going to look at different rules that enable that to happen more frequently in our game. It’s just an exciting venture for me."

The eight coaches are: six-time Stanley Cup winner Bryan Trottier; three-time champion Guy Carbonneau; five-time All-Star John LeClair; four-time Olympian Angela Ruggiero; four-time Stanley Cup winner Larry Murphy; three-time champion Joe Mullen; and Ed Johnston. Johnston and LeClair are the only members of the group not selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Who, exactly, these coaches will have on their rosters remains to be seen, but Johnston thinks assembling the player pool will be one of the easier aspects of the launch. Johnston points to specific body type — shorter, faster players, with elite hands and stick speed — and age (mid-20s to early to mid-30s) when describing a typical 3ICE player. 

"These guys will have NHL pedigree. If the NHL was overtime all the time, they’d still be playing in the league," Johnston said. "The creativity is really what we’re looking for.”

Patrick said the goalies will need to fit that mold, too, since they will be handling the puck more often than the game is accustomed to. 3ICE will consist of 56 players — eight teams of seven individuals, with six skaters and one goaltender per squad. 

The 3ICE schedule begins in June and lasts nine weeks, with all eight teams traveling to a different location each week. Currently, the league has whittled the list down to 15-20 metropolitan candidates, primarily in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada, but also the Midwest. 

"We want the fans to chime in and make the case for their city," Johnston said. "So if we get an overwhelming response in Columbus or Pittsburgh or Erie or Toronto, that will obviously tip the scales." 

Each stop will essentially be a different tournament — seven games total, bracket-style and single-elimination. The eight-minute halves will have a running clock. Faceoffs are discouraged. There are no penalties, only penalty shots. 

"We're out to promote and sell hockey at its purest," Trottier said. 

"It's gonna have its audience," he added. "In today’s wham-bam attention span world, I think the quickness, the idea of multiple games, the idea of short periods, action action, boom boom, it’s gonna grab a lot of eyeballs." 

To help grab those eyeballs, 3ICE partnered with TSN in Canada and CBS Sports in the U.S. to broadcast games. Johnston reached out to nearly every major network's sport properties, but, "CBS just had the enthusiasm and the capability. Quite honestly, they have the brand and the assets that they’re going to put behind this that made us really excited," he said.  

Ruggiero doesn't put much stock in being the lone female coach. It's nothing new for the first woman to play in a men's pro hockey league in the U.S. (outside of the goalie position). 

"Hockey's hockey," she said. "It's the same game regardless of gender." 

Among the challenges she expects is how much she will actually be able to coach in-game, given the frenetic environment 3-on-3 provides. In her opinion, nailing the draft and the conditioning aspect of coaching will translate to success. 

Because teams are guaranteed one game per weekend, the magnitude of each game will naturally be more intense, Ruggiero said. The novelty of the league should largely mitigate most competitive advantages. 

“Everyone’s going to be competitive," said Ruggiero, who recently had her first child. "Every one of these eight coaches is going to want to win this thing. But it’ll be fun. It definitely raises the profile, having so many Stanley Cup winners, gold medalists, behind the bench.”

Ruggiero spent 2010-18 as a member of the International Olympic Committee. Shortly after being elected, she attended the Youth Olympics in Singapore. There, 3-on-3 basketball became, "literally, overnight, the most popular event." 

In 2016, Ruggiero founded her company, Sports Innovation Lab — a market research company focused on the intersection of sports, technology and the future of sport. The company's findings revealed younger generations being drawn to shorter formats with more engagement. 

So when Johnston asked Ruggiero to come aboard 3ICE, it was an easy yes. 

"I love the fact that we’ve already had some exposure at the NHL level in overtime," she said. "Now, it’s kind of taking that one step further.

“Hockey’s got to do things differently to keep the next generation engaged.”

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In essay, Akim Aliu lays out foundation for change: ‘Hockey is not for everyone…But it damn sure should be’

Akim Aliu believes hockey is not for everyone.

“The NHL’s title for their annual diversity campaign, ‘Hockey is For Everyone’ makes me crack up,” Aliu wrote in a powerful essay for The Players’ Tribune that was posted on Tuesday morning. “Because, right now, hockey is not for everyone.”

Taking aim at the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign, which “uses the game of hockey — and the league’s global influence — to drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities,” Aliu detailed the racism he experienced over the course of his career and insisted the time is now for the league to step up.

“I think the title of the NHL’s diversity campaign is a little funny. Because it’s like putting up a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner before even starting the mission. It’s not that the campaign is misguided — I think it has promise,” he wrote. It’s just that the road ahead is long, and it will be painful for some. And we are not at the end yet.”

Back in November, Aliu disclosed on social media during the 2009-10 season, then-Rockford IceHogs head coach Bill Peters used racial slurs directed at him over his choice of music. 

“Surrounded by teammates. Surrounded by the boys. But completely alone,” Aliu said. Earlier in the essay, he also described the treatment he received from former Windsor Spitfire teammate Steve Downie, including him knocking out his teeth at a practice.

Aliu’s actions lead to Peters resigning a few days later as the head coach of the Calgary Flames. He was hired in April to serve as the bench boss for the KHL’s Yekaterinburg Avtomobilist.

“There are hundreds of coaches at all levels of hockey in Canada and the United States just like him,” he wrote. “They operate under the pretense of absolute power.

“They will pummel you mercilessly until you break, or until you give in, whichever comes first.”

After the Peters’ incident came to light, Aliu met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly regarding issues in the game.

“I made my opinions on things clear to them, as I hope I’ve done here,” Aliu said, adding that conversations are ongoing. “I left that initial meeting feeling positive. I think — and it may take some time — that there will be an acknowledgment of the problems the NHL is facing — and there will be tangible changes coming.”

As Aliu mentioned, the changes need to come at all levels — from the hiring and teaching of youth coaches through the professional ranks. He did concede that at the pro level, it may not be so easy.

“It’s difficult to ask a veteran or a rookie to speak out on divisive issues and most NHL coaches aren’t going to change their ways. There’s too much money on the line. But what we can do is promote diversity,” he explained. It should be noted that the NHL did set up a hotline for players and staff to anonymously report incidents. 

While Aliu does state it will take time, one way he suggested to promote diversity would be creating something similar to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs.

“We should be showing off the diversity our game is capable of having,” he wrote. “This has an immediate impact on youth involvement because I know there are kids like me out there who have a hard time seeing themselves in the NHL. Or there’s a little black boy or girl who wants to be an NHL coach, but he or she doesn’t see anyone in the league who looks like them.”

As more incidents come to light, such as former Hurricanes defenseman Michal Jordan revealing Peters’ physical abuse, and “the dark side of hockey” such as what was seen during a recent fan chat with New York Rangers prospect K’Andre Miller, Aliu notes it’s time for the NHL to be better and take the lead in creating a system that welcomes everyone regardless of background.

“What we CAN do is be honest. What we CAN do is be courageous. What we CAN do is stand up for one another. That’s what hockey is supposed to be all about, right?” he asked.

“Hockey is not for everyone. Not yet. But it damn sure should be.”

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From Bobby Orr to Tiger Williams: The best NHL goal celebrations of all time

Exactly 50 years ago today, Bobby Orr lept through the air after scoring the goal that gave the Boston Bruins their first Stanley Cup since 1941. It was a celebration that inspired a franchise and led to one of the most iconic sports photographs of all time.

Orr’s magical moment shows the lasting impact that a celebration can have on the minds of fans. While not every celebration can come after a goal as important as Orr’s, it’s still fun to watch players express their joy and show some of their personality on the ice. 

Here’s a list of the funniest, most creative, and all-around best NHL celebrations of all time:

No. 10: P.K. Subban’s smooth slide

This one makes the list because it’s simple yet effective. After scoring an overtime game-winner against Calgary, Subban gracefully slides on his knees, dragging his fingers over the ice before pretending to “shoot the lights out”. It was a memorable celebration that embodies the swagger of a player like Subban. 

No. 9: Jaromir Jagr’s salute

Jaromir Jagr is one of the most iconic NHL players in recent memory and he had an iconic celebration to boot. After scoring a goal, Jagr often removed his right glove and gave a military salute. He used the celebration for years but eventually stopped for reasons unknown. However, former New York Rangers forward Mike Rupp did break it out in a game against Jagr’s Flyers in 2012. 

No. 8: Tie Domi rides his stick

Tie Domi was known mostly for his role as an enforcer in the NHL, but when he did score he made it memorable. The prime example came in a game against the Buffalo Sabres during his time with the Rangers. After putting home a rebound, he rode his stick like a broomstick through center ice. But he wasn’t the creator of the move… 

No. 7: Tiger Williams also rides his stick

…That would be David “Tiger” Williams, who is best known for holding the all-time NHL record for penalty minutes. When he wasn’t in the sin bin, Williams actually had a pretty darn good shot on him that led to 241 career goals. Undoubtedly the most memorable one came against the Maple Leafs, when he celebrated by straddling his stick and pretending to gallop down the ice. 

No. 6: Milan Hejduk goes swimming

Milan “The Duke” Hejduk certainly scored plenty of goals in his day. He even won the 2003 Rocket Richard Trophy for the most goals in the league. However, he wasn’t known for his wacky celebrations. That is, until a game against the Dallas Stars. After scoring the overtime winner, Hejduk gave a little shimmy to loosen up before dolphin diving onto the ice and practicing his freestyle stroke.

No. 5: Sean Avery does push-ups

Avery wasn’t always the most popular player during his 12 years in the NHL thanks to his agitating style of play, but he may have gained some fans after this goal celebration. In a game against the Nashville Predators, Avery banked in a goal off the back of Preds goalie Tomas Vokoun. He immediately dropped to the ice and performed three push-ups while his teammates gathered around him. His form was solid, it must be said.

No. 4: Alex Ovechkin warms up by the fire

There’s no question that Alex Ovechkin is one of the greatest NHL scorers of all time, and his celebrations usually reflect his intensity and passion for the game. But the one knock on his cellys might be a lack of creativity. That wasn’t the case in one game back in 2013. After scoring his 50th goal of the season against the Lightning, Ovi dropped his stick on the ice and pretended to warm his hands up. It’s true that he was on fire that season.

No. 3: Theo Fleury goes bonkers

The Flames and the Oilers met in the “Battle for Alberta” in the first round of the 1991 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and things were as intense as you would expect. With Calgary trailing 3-2 in the series, Theo Fleury intercepted a pass in the neutral zone to set up a breakaway chance. He tucked it home, rounded the net, and proceeded to lose his mind; sliding on his knees across the entire rink and eventually tumbling into the boards on the other side. It was typical of Fleury, who was known for wearing his heart on his sleeve while on the ice.

No. 2: Teemu Selanne goes glove hunting

Biathlon is a popular sport in Finland, but we honestly didn’t realize Teemu Selanne was a fan. That is until he broke out this celebration during his rookie season. Selanne absolutely lit it up in his first year in the league, scoring a record 76 goals. When he broke the previous record of 53 in a game against the Quebec Nordiques, he threw his glove into the air and pretended to shoot it with his stick. Huge points for creativity on this one.

No. 1: Bobby Orr’s famous leap

Is there any other choice? Orr’s Stanley Cup-winning moment in 1970 is etched into the minds of Boston sports fans everywhere. It helped turn a struggling franchise into one of the best in the league and it also gave us one of the best photographs in sports history. His graceful leap through the air will live on forever in the minds of all who saw it. Simply put, it’s the most famous goal — and celebration — in hockey history. 

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Ex-Oilers Ethan Moreau, Jarret Stoll and Dwayne Roloson recount 2006 Stanley Cup Final run

In the 10-year stretch between 1996-2006, the Edmonton Oilers were one of the most consistent teams in the NHL. They made the playoffs in seven out of nine seasons (2004-05 was the lockout) and battled all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2006.

But the Oilers lost that game to the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 3-1, and they haven’t sniffed a deep playoff run since. In fact, the team has made the playoffs just once since then — in 2017 — and has finished with a losing record in 10 out of 13 seasons. 

Forwards Ethan Moreau and Jarret Stoll and goalie Dwayne Roloson were a part of the 2006 squad that came agonizingly close to lifting the Stanley Cup. 

“I really, truly believe that when we entered the playoffs, we had the best goalie in the world and the best defenseman in the world,” Moreau said, referring to Roloson and fellow teammate Chris Pronger, respectively. “I remember sitting on the bench and we scored the first three goals [in Game 1], and I said in my head, ‘This is a joke. We’re going to win.'” 

Edmonton ended up losing that game, with Roloson suffering a sprained MCL during the third period that ruled him out for the rest of the series. It proved to be a pivotal turning point, with Carolina winning the first two games in Raleigh to jump out to an early lead. 

“The confidence that Rolly showed right from when we got him, he just instilled that in our team,” Stoll said. “We all know that in sports, especially hockey, confidence can do wonders.”

After helping guide the eighth-seeded Oilers all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, Roloson was forced to watch from the sidelines.

“I was the biggest cheerleader from that point on, just trying to make sure the guys were ready to go day in and day out,” he said, as Jussi Markkanen replaced him between the pipes in Game 2. “I remember trying to keep these guys pretty relaxed and trying to get them to win a Game 7. It was an emotional roller coaster.”

With Carolina leading the series 2-0, the Oilers returned home to a raucous Northlands Coliseum and managed to win Game 3. 

“The simple word is crazy,” Roloson said about the atmosphere inside the old Edmonton arena. “I think the city ran out of beer two or three times and everything was getting trucked in from Calgary…I don’t think I’ve been in a city that’s been that excited about anything.”

“We were on those streets and we were in those bars — probably too much — but we enjoyed it,” Moreau added. “We were part of it. After we’d win a series we went out and we’d celebrate with the fans. It was a little bit before social media, probably couldn’t do that now, but we enjoyed it because we were actually a part of it and we got to witness it first hand.”

Despite the energy of the fans, Edmonton lost Game 4 and found themselves on the brink of elimination. They managed to win the next two games to force a decisive Game 7. But as we know, they fell just a tad short.

Stoll went on to hoist the cup during his time with the Los Angeles Kings, but he says even that hasn’t erased the memories and pain of 2006. 

“I’m still upset that we lost Game 7 in Carolina,” he said. “We had the team, we had all the right ingredients and things were going well. The momentum switched, from when Fernando [Pisani] scored the overtime goal in Game 5 shorthanded, to bring it back for Game 6.

“We played our most dominant game in Game 6 probably, so going into Game 7 you feel it. We had it and we let it slip away. It still hurts for sure.”

It has now been almost 15 years since the Oilers fell short in Raleigh. You still have to go back to the days of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky for their most recent Stanley Cup. However, this year’s team, led by young superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, was one of the most promising in recent memory. With the current season on pause, only time will tell if the painful legacy of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final will continue to linger in Edmonton. 

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Dale Hawerchuk describes his battle against stomach cancer

Dale Hawerchuk described his battle against stomach cancer in an episode of Sportsnet’s After Hours on Sunday. The Hockey Hall of Famer was diagnosed with stomach cancer in Aug. 2019.

The 16-year NHL forward said he’s feeling “pretty good” as he recuperates from his home.

“From eight months ago when I was first diagnosed, it really felt like a death sentence but then you learn a lot more about cancer, talk to a lot of people, do a lot of research,” Hawerchuk said. “My surgeon was pretty blunt with me, basically said you’re going to have to go through some serious chemo, we’re going to have to remove your stomach and then more serious chemo. Here I am at the end of it. It’s been a battle but I feel pretty good.”

On April 13, Hawerchuk got to ring the bell at the hospital after completing his final round of chemotherapy.

He said he didn’t want to ring the bell — he just wanted to get in and out of the hospital with the COVID-19 pandemic going on —but was urged to do so.

“The nurses really wanted me to ring the bell,” Hawerchuk said. “It felt really good walking out of there after ringing the bell and saying, ‘Man, it’s been a long journey, but this was the goal, in the end, to get to this point.'”

Hawerchuk, who totaled 1,409 career points in 1,188 games for the Jets, Sabres, Blues and Flyers, said he felt something was wrong when he began experiencing acid reflux for the first time in his life. It kept getting worse and worse, and after scans didn’t show anything wrong, he went in for a scope.

“I went in and did the scope and when I woke up the doctors at the end of the bed said, ‘Sorry, I’ve got bad news. You got cancer.’ You just think you’re in a bad dream. You want to wake up but that was the reality,” Hawerchuk said. “Within a few hours, I was meeting with the surgeon and my surgeon was excellent.”

His doctors told him that he was going to need a feeding tube until he got going on chemotherapy. He said he was on a pump and feeding tube for two and a half to three months, giving him enough nutrition to save his life. Now, he has resumed eating food again.

“The chemo knocked down the tumor enough that I can start eating again. I thought I would never even like food again, that’s how bad it was,” Hawerchuk said. “Now, I really enjoy it again so happy to be here now with an appetite.”

Hawerchuk compared his cancer battle to a bag skate, which he hated while playing but in the end, he knew he would come out better because of it.

“It wasn’t fun going through it (bag skates) at the time but you always seem to feel better when it was over and you were healthier or you were more fit,” Hawerchuk said. “I take it one day at a time and tried to enjoy every moment of the day. I’m up early now and I really enjoy watching that sun come up over the hills. It’s the kind of thing where it’s unknown territory, but you got to listen to your doctors and got to have a great attitude and you got to feel like you’re going to do it.”

Early detection was important for Hawerchuk and he recommends people get a scope done in their forties, earlier than the current recommendation of doing it in their fifties. 

“Just be sure because the one thing you find out with cancer and even talking to other people who’ve had cancer, the symptoms don’t hit until it’s further along than you want,” Hawerchuk said.” If you can get in stage one, you’re way ahead of the game and a lot of the times the symptoms don’t show up until stage three or four. I think just the way things are in the world now, whether it’s the food we’re eating, you should do these scopes earlier than when we used to recommend.”

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Bettman considers Dec. start for 2020-21 season

    Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that starting the 2020-21 season as late as December is on the table as the league considers all options for finishing this season and beginning the following one.

“We have a great deal of flexibility in terms of when we can start,” Bettman said in an interview with NHL Network on Thursday. “There’s no magic for next season of starting in October as we traditionally do. If we have to start in November or December, that’s something that will be under consideration. We’re going to try to make good, prudent, careful judgments. This isn’t a race to be first back.”

The NHL paused its regular season on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The league and the NHLPA said this week they’re looking at Phase 2 of a “return to play” plan, following the current period of “self-quarantine” by players and team staff. Phase 2 involves small group activities in NHL team training facilities, something the league hopes can happen in mid-to-late May.

Bettman, however, said there is no firm timeline or target dates established.

“We’re going to have to take things one step at a time, because the health and well-being of our players is paramount to anything we’re focused on,” he said.

“Our health concerns for the players really fit into two categories: One is obviously COVID-19, and two, whatever we’re going to do, we don’t want them playing games until they’re back in game shape. We don’t want anybody getting injured.”

The NHL and its players have been in contact throughout this season pause, including through the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play Committee, which features several current players such as Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs star John Tavares.

“Having the committee that’s been put together with the players is important so that we can get the feedback on the issues that are important to them, and how to resolve them, and that we can be communicating how we’re focusing on the things we think that need to be done,” Bettman said.

“It’s been extraordinarily collaborative, constructive and cooperative, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the interaction that we’re having.”

There has been heavy speculation that the NHL is targeting July and August to finish its regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs, cloistering its teams at four centrally located arenas and playing multiple games per day in an empty building.

Bettman cautioned against making any assumptions about those plans. “We’re looking at all of our options. No decisions have been made,” he said. “When we have something to say, we announce it.”

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Blue Jackets’ Elvis Merzlikins signs two-year contract extension

Just days after signing their starting goalie to a contract extension, the Columbus Blue Jackets have done the same with their second-stringer. 

The team announced on Thursday that they agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension with rookie Elvis Merzlikins. The Riga, Latvia native was a standout performer in his first season and was recently ranked the No. 1 rookie aged 25 or older by NHL.com . 

“We’ve believed for several years that Elvis Merzlikins was the best goaltender outside the NHL while he was playing in Switzerland and this year he has shown that he has the ability and drive to be a very good goaltender in this league,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in the team’s press release.  “He is quick, athletic and driven to succeed and we are excited to see what the future holds for Elvis and our hockey club.” 

The 26-year-old Merzlikins played for Swiss team HC Lugano from 2011-2019, winning the Jacques Plante Trophy for the best goalie in Switzerland twice (2016, 2018). He was selected by Columbus in the third round of the 2012 draft before finally making his NHL debut this season.

In his first year in the league, Merzlikins started 31 games, posting a 13-9-8 record. He led all rookie netminders in GAA (2.35) and shutouts (five) and led the entire NHL in GAA between Dec. 31 and the pause in the season on March 12. The netminder also posted a .923 save percentage, which put him sixth among NHL goalies with a minimum of 20 games. 

The news of his extension comes less than a week after the Blue Jackets’ starter, Joonas Korpisalo, put pen to paper on a two-year extension of his own . Korpisalo had the best season of his NHL career this year, winning 19 of the 37 games he played and named to his first All-Star game. He suffered a knee injury earlier this year that kept him out for almost two months, during which time Merzlikins deputized in goal. 

With both of their top netminders locked up for the near future, the Blue Jackets have found stability at the position despite the departure of Sergei Bobrovsky last offseason. Merzlikins and Korpisalo are also both still a few years away from the age of 30, so we could be seeing the two battle it out for the starting job for years to come.

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Wayne Gretzky optimistic the 2019-20 NHL season will resume

Wayne Gretzky is optimistic the 2019-20 NHL season will resume. In an interview with the Associated Press’ Stephen Whyno, Gretzky said he believed we’ll see hockey this summer.

“I really believe somehow, someway, that the leadership in this country and in Canada, that we’re going to figure this out,” Gretzky told the AP. “I really believe that we’ll see hockey and some sort of other sports in June, July and August, albeit in a different way, but I really see it coming to fruition. I think it’s going to happen.”

The 2019-20 NHL season was paused on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told Fox News on April 15 that the league is “exploring all options” regarding the resumption of the season.

The league is also advising all teams to continue self-quarantining until April 30.

Gretzky told the AP that he’s quarantining in California and is helping the league provide content during the stoppage by joining a joint interview with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin that will air Monday on NBC Sports Network and Sportsnet.

As the league continues to discuss neutral sites to resume the season, Gretzky believes one way or another that the 2019-20 season will be completed.

“Maybe I’m wrong,” Gretzky said. “Maybe I’m too optimistic. I think I’m not. I hope that that’s a good sign for everyone that we’re moving on in life, in business, in sports. I really see in the next couple of months something good happening.”

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April 18, 1999: Wayne Gretzky’s last NHL game

The Rangers normally wore white at home, but on this spring day, general manager Neil Smith decided they should go back to their original blue because this was not a normal game.

All eyes were on the man sporting a matching blue turtleneck with 99 embroidered under the lace-up collar. His white and black Nike Air Zoom skates glided around the rink, the one with that same 99 painted behind the net on both ends. His blue jersey was tucked in — only on the right side, of course — as red pants hung off his lithe frame. A Jofa helmet with NYR stickers on the sides was precariously placed on his head as the fingers of his Hespeler gloves gripped one of countless sticks by the same manufacturer being used that day.

No, this was not a normal game.

Twenty-one years ago Saturday, the hockey world held its collective breath for 60 minutes, its gaze fixated on a sheet of ice five stories up in the middle of New York City as Wayne Gretzky, “The Great One,” played his last NHL game.



(Getty Images)

Wayne Gretzky
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“I always thought that if you put Wayne Gretzky on the Rangers it would be like having Babe Ruth on the Yankees,” Smith, who three years earlier had enticed Gretzky to sign as a free agent, told Sporting News during a recent phone interview. “It would be an amazing thing for New York to have the greatest player to ever play in their uniform and that’s how I always felt the whole time he was playing, the whole three years.

“Every time I looked down and saw that he was in that uniform I sort of looked twice, to go like, ‘Oh my God, he really is in the Rangers jersey and it’s Wayne Gretzky.'”

Not a soul at Madison Square Garden was sitting during the pre-game ceremony as the fans chanted his name, with old-fashioned camera flashes illuminating the moment.

Mario Lemieux was there, as was then Oilers and future Rangers GM Glen Sather and ’94 Stanley Cup hero Mark Messier, a member of the Canucks that day. Phil Esposito, Jerry Seinfeld and Christopher Reeve looked on as he hugged Alexei Kovalev and Jaromir Jagr. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was, of course, booed — until he announced that No. 99 would be retired across the NHL. 

He stood shoulder-to-shoulder with captain Brian Leetch, linemate Niklas Sundstrom and the rest of the Rangers’ starting five on the blue line before the puck dropped against the Penguins, singing along with Bryan Adams to the Canadian national anthem — except when the words were changed to, “We’re gonna miss you, Wayne Gretzky.” 

Swathed in Ranger blue, in a jersey that fit the baggy clothing of the day, he watched as MSG’s legendary anthem singer, John Amirante, got the crowd in more of a frenzy with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

MARCH 29, 1999: The day Wayne Gretzky scored his last NHL goal

It was a moment that many in that building, and watching on television across the continent, were not ready for: the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorer, with 894 tallies to his name, was hanging up his skates at the age of 38.

It was a moment that was not officially happening until just two days prior when he formally announced that the curtain was indeed coming down on his illustrious 21-year professional hockey career.

“He didn’t want it to be a gong show for 82 games: Wayne’s last season, last time he’s in New Jersey, last time he’s in wherever,” said Mike Richter, the Rangers’ starting netminder that day. “He had that understanding of his place in the game and how that would be a distraction to the league and to our own franchise trying to play games.

“But at the same time, he also knew enough to not just decide to mail it in from a golf course in August saying ‘I’m not coming back next year.’ He’s too important.”

Word had spread — unofficially — as the season wore on, however, that his time was winding down. His final game in Canada was against the Ottawa Senators three nights earlier on April 15.

“It was overwhelming,” Richter told Sporting News. “It was like a national day of mourning and we sat after lunch and told stories and Wayne just wanted to hang out and tell more stories. … [But] John Rosasco, our head of PR, kept saying, ‘Hey Wayne, you’ve got a call.’ He said, ‘John, you know, I’m going to address the press tonight, I just want to stay here, my last meal, have conversations with the guys.’ …

“He just kept telling stories after our meal and John came and said, ‘No, there’s another call here for you.’ He’s like, ‘John, I’m not speaking to anybody.’ [Rosasco responded], ‘Well, it’s the Prime Minister of Canada.’ [Gretzky said] ‘I’d better take that one.'”

On that Sunday at MSG, fans settled into their seats as referee Bill McCreary got set to drop the puck for the opening faceoff between Gretzky and Martin Straka, who himself would end his career later as a Ranger.

While it was the last game of the regular season for both teams, they were two franchises headed in opposite directions. The Rangers were in Year 2 of a seven-year playoff drought — which was eventually ended, thanks in part, to the superstar that would end this particular game — while the Penguins were gearing up for the postseason.

“It was another game for us … but there’s no one that it wasn’t in the back of their mind,” Penguins forward Matthew Barnaby said. “That probably is the only game in my life that I was thinking more about growing up and having a chance to play against Wayne Gretzky and him being an idol as a kid. Any Canadian kid, I think, looked up to him. …

“Just knowing that the greatest player that ever played the game and someone that we grew up [and watched] and I was gonna have a chance to play in that last game.”

GRETZKY BY THE NUMBERS: A look at “The Great One’s” NHL career

After a scoreless opening frame, it was Kovalev, who was traded in November from these Rangers to those Penguins, that potted the first goal.

Then, with the Garden faithful cheering every time “The Great One” touched the puck, they were finally rewarded with under a minute to go in the middle 20. With New York on the power play, Leetch dished it to Gretzky just inside the offensive zone on the right wing. He took two steps to the top of the circle and fed the trailer, Mathieu Schneider, in the high slot. The Manhattan native faked the shot, taking netminder Tom Barrasso out of position, and hit Leetch for the easy redirect goal.

Madison Square Garden roared and shook as only Madison Square Garden can. The game was tied. It was NHL point No. 2,857 for Gretzky, yet he celebrated like it was point No. 1.

“He just found a way to carve out a sense of enjoyment every time he was on the ice,” Richter said during a recent phone chat. “He just brought a lot of energy to it. He wasn’t a young guy when he came to our squad and he had every record in the book, but he would bring more energy than some of the rookies we had on the team. That’s just who we was. That’s how he loved the game and that’s how we figured out how to have success.

“This guy was gifted, obviously, but … he just absolutely loved the competition and playing and having the puck on his stick when the game was on the line. Not everybody’s built that way. … His reads and his element of surprise and trickiness, which he used that skill, setting up behind the net, passing when you thought he was going to shoot, sometimes shooting when you didn’t think he would.

“The way he saw the game was really just beautiful. It was amazing to watch.”

And his teammates and the fans weren’t the only ones watching Gretzky’s every move that afternoon.

“I just remember sitting on the bench and literally the game not meaning anything to me as we were going through,” Barnaby told Sporting News. “Usually [I’m] uber-competitive and thinking about a fight that I might have out there. I’m thinking about the next play that I might have. I found myself on the bench all game long just staring at Wayne and looking at him when he got to the bench and what he was doing; as he was either taking off another pair of gloves, getting another stick into his hands.

“I spent the whole game just watching Wayne from our bench.”

Barnaby, who would later join the Rangers before his career ended, added, “It was electric every time he touched the puck — every time he got onto the ice. It was really Wayne and everyone else. Everyone just stared at Wayne, whether you’re in the game, whether you’re watching the game. He knew the magnitude of what it was going to be but it was pretty electric for a team not going to the playoffs.”

As the game wore on, the tension — and anticipation — grew palpable. Would “The Great One” score in his last NHL game? Could he, in fact, bury the game-winner? And with the game still tied after 60, how magical would it be for him, in his last NHL game, to score the overtime capper?

“Freaking Jaromir Jagr scored on me in OT and I would have liked to have had that,” Richter said.

Approximately 30 minutes earlier, during the second intermission, Jagr told the CBC’s Scott Oake that he hadn’t planned on playing the second night of back-to-back games with the playoffs coming up; he changed his mind because he “wanted to be here” for Gretzky’s last game. When asked about taking the mantle now, the Penguins captain added that, “Nobody can fill Wayne Gretzky or Mario’s shoes, it’s too big and those kinds of players are born once in a 100 years.”

Yet, in a way, he did.

He ended the game one minute and 22 seconds into the extra session.

“We wanted to win the game, right, but I don’t think anyone from our team would have been upset if Wayne Gretzky scored the winner and [was] carried off the ice and had that ending,” Barnaby said, and considering the demure celebration by Pittsburgh as its regular season came to a close, that was pretty evident. 

“Was it kind of a passing of the guard? Yeah, Jaromir was at the top of his game and he was the new guard. He was the new NHL superhero. … To watch Jags and Gretz hug [afterward] and their little conversation that they had, whatever was said, was kind of poetic. It was like a movie, the passing of the guard. … 

“So [if] Wayne wasn’t gonna score, Jaromir was the second-best option.”

The Penguins, the fans and, of course, his teammates all celebrated as Gretzky’s career came to a close. He took a picture with his teammates wearing 99 hats, looking on the verge of much-warranted tears. He skated around the Garden ice saluting the crowd, similar to how he celebrated the four Stanley Cups he won in Edmonton in the 80s.

He came back out from the tunnel for another spin, just as he did every before every game or every time he was named a star of the game. He looked around the World’s Most Famous Arena one last time in a jersey that hung on his thin frame drenched in sweat — and probably a few tears — before the lights went dark on Broadway.

“It is really indescribable because you’re playing your hero, the greatest player that ever played the game and you’re watching this unfold,” Barnaby said. “I got a chance to play in his last game, I got to watch his last shift, I got to be a part of something that is absolutely incredible. I couldn’t imagine as a kid, you know, watching Wayne and admiring him to be in his last game and to watch it unfold, but I wasn’t emotional. I was more awestruck and couldn’t believe that this is the last time he’s ever gonna wear a pair of skates.”

Gretzky took his time removing those skates; more than an hour passed before he began to untie them and slip the blue jersey over his head. He told reporters, knowing the finality of it all, that, “probably, subconsciously, I don’t want to take it off. … I was a boy that happened to love a game and got lucky and the good Lord gave me a passion for it.”

Certainly.

“It [would have been] so cool in overtime to have him, the last time the puck touched his stick to be a goal, but he wrote so many amazing stories,” Richter said. “It was a celebration of his life, career, greatness, singular talent, personality. He always said records are made to be broken, and he broke plenty in his life. And you expect some of his to be broken, but he is just so different than all the others, and there’s been many, many great players.

“But boy, there’ll never be another Wayne, right?”

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