NHL Notebook: Referee Steve Kozari stretchered off ice during Lightning and Penguins game and a look at which non-playoff team could resurge in 2024-25

Photo credit:Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Aleena Aksenchuk
27 days ago
A frightening collision occurred during Saturday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning with referee Steve Kozari being stretchered off the ice after an accidental collision.
With 13:49 remaining in the third period with the Penguins leading 4-2, Kozari was blindsided by Lightning defenseman Haydn Fleury as both parties were watching the puck coming out of the Penguin’s neutral zone.
The collision left both parties injured, with Fleury making his way to the locker room and Kozari requiring immediate medical attention and being stretchered off the ice.
According to the ESPN broadcast, Kozari lost consciousness for a brief moment in the incident, but was seen moving, grabbing linesman Kyle Flemington’s hand while being taken off the ice.
NHL Public Relations later announced that Kozari was transported to UPMC Mercy hospital for precautionary reasons, noting that he is conscious with full use of all extremities and is expected to make a full recovery.
The Lightning announced that Fleury would not return to the game, but no further information on his injury has been disclosed.
Kozari debuted in October 2005 and has been a full-time official in the NHL since the 2007-08 season. The Penticton, British Columbia native has reffed over 1,100 games, including 136 playoff games and the 2014, 2019, 2020, and 2023 Stanley Cup Finals.
As for Fleury, the 27-year-old has missed 21 games previously due to injury and an additional six games last month as a result of a lower-body injury. In 23 games, Fleury has recorded five goals and five points.

Which non-playoff team will resurge in 2024-25?

As the 2023-24 campaign winds down in the next few weeks, a handful of teams are virtually anticipating the end of their season with a playoff picture that is too far out of reach. 
It’s never fun missing out on one of the most exciting times of the year, and it’s always challenging to listen to the countless comments from the media emphasizing the lack of success for certain teams.
However, the track record shows that at least every year, one team that misses the playoffs experiences a massive resurgence. The New Jersey Devils did it last season, and this season, the poster team for this theory was the Vancouver Canucks.
With that being said, Daily Faceoff contributors headed to the roundtable to debate the answer to the question: Which non-playoff team will resurge in 2024-25?
The Ottawa Senators
The Senators organization has been through a lot over the past handful of years, including new owners, which ultimately led to a turnover of their front office and the placement of Steve Staios as general manager. 
On the other hand, Ottawa has a handful of talented players, including 30-goal scorer Brady Tkachuk and 70-point player Tim Stutzle, to name a few. As the Senators search for a good recipe to assemble a collection of depth players and get some noteworthy draft picks, they may be headed down the right path (finally). 
“A lot of the legwork has already been done, notwithstanding some of the shoddy GM practices under the previous regime,” said Mike Gould. “We’ve been fooled by the Sens many times before, but I’m willing to say next year will be the one.”
The Buffalo Sabres
It’s been 12 years since the Sabres last appeared in the excitement of playoff hockey, the longest-standing postseason drought in NHL history. 
Frank Seravalli notes that the Sabres’s backend undoubtedly poises a solid top four that rivals any other blueline in the league. With Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power, Mattias Samuelsson, and Bowen Byram, their top four are solid; they just need the support on the front end. 
JJ Peterka has had a breakout season with 40 goals and 82 points across 77 games, but they’re still missing that size component to refrain them from being pushed around. 
“Since Jan. 1, they’ve played at a 91-point pace, which is close to this year’s playoff cut,” said Seravalli. “They don’t award postseason spots based on half seasons, but they were a lot closer one year ago, and I think they can bounce back big time.”
The Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens bolster a core group of young players such as Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Alex Newhook, and Kaiden Guhle, to name just a few. As the organization turns to a rebuild after their 2021 Stanley Cup Finals appearance, they will build their team around the group of young players. 
Despite the duo of Samual Montembeault and Cayden Primeau between the pipes being seemingly underrated, both goaltenders have been a surprising yet solid component for the Canadiens. 
“They’ve still got some holes to fill in the lineup with under $10 million in cap space, and they’d benefit from shedding Christian Dvorak’s $4.45 million cap hit,” said Steven Ellis. “But I think the Habs will be closer to a playoff spot than the absolute bottom next year.”
The Minnesota Wild
After buying out the contracts of Zach Praise and Ryan Suter, the Minnesota Wild are sitting on nearly $15 million in dead cap space. 
However, they still have talented players like Kirill Kapizov, Matt Boldy, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jared Spurgeon, Brock Fabre, Macro Rossi, and Jonas Brodin, who complement a handful of other players that dawn the Wild’s colours. 
As a cherry on top, the substation of Marc-Andre Fleury, with one of the most promising prospects in the league, Jesper Wallstedt, will surely solidify the strong presence that Filip Gustavsson already possesses between the pipes.
“A postseason return is no guarantee with that dead cap space ($9.5 million) on the sheets,” said Scott Maxwell. “But it feels like everything’s set for the Wild to do so next season after barely missing this season.”
The New Jersey Devils
Despite being a come-back team in 2022-23, the New Jersey Devils have seen their fair share of struggles this season. Things haven’t been smooth sailing from injuries early on sidelining one of their top defensive pairings with Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler to lack of performance from their goaltending. 
However, Jake Allen has given them that much-needed stability in the crease while general manager Tom Fitzgerald searches for an additional upgrade in goal. 
“Talent-wise, this team is still stacked, and Jack and Luke Hughes will keep getting better,” said Matt Larkin. “Improved injury luck and even league-average goaltending would make this a 100-point team next year.”

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