CALGARY — The Toronto Maple Leafs had announced a nine-player trade on the morning of the game, the principle component of which had them playing without their captain Dion Phaneuf, now an Ottawa Senator. As if in response, Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley healthy-scratched two-thirds of his top line plus a fourth-liner, all for disciplinary reasons.
The losers? The fans that paid big league money to watch two lineups — particularly in Toronto’s case — rife with AHLers.
In the end, Calgary won 4-3 to keep their faint playoff hopes alive, while Toronto muddles up the highway to Edmonton for a Thursday meeting with Connor McDavid and his hapless Oilers.
Truly, the off-ice action was far juicier than anything that happened between the boards at the Saddledome Tuesday night.
“We have what we believe to be a very strong culture here, and that goes for everyone,” began Flames head coach Bob Hartley, who had the courage to discipline Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Lance Bouma for offences stemming from a Super Bowl party that got out of hand. “It’s not about the people involved, it’s about the Calgary Flames.
“You can’t get three better young men. They’re proud of representing this community; they’re easy to coach. But, when you make mistakes you have to be accountable,” Hartley said. “They didn’t rob a bank, they made a mistake. Who didn’t make mistakes when they were young? We support those kids, and they learned a very valuable lesson tonight. They broke a team rule (arriving late for Monday’s practice), and that’s the end of it.”
Leafs goalie James Reimer, who was at best average, surrendered goals to Mikael Backlund, Dougie Hamilton, Markus Granlund and Micheal Ferland. Hiller was beaten by Peter Holland, Jake Gardiner and Josh Leivo, but earned the win on the strength of a dozen third-period saves.
The most dangerous Leafs forward was Holland, who four years ago scored 23 goals for the Syracuse Crunch. Unless you count Nazem Kadri, who went pointless but was caught by the cameras making a throat-slashing gesture to Calgary defenceman Mark Giordano, who ran Kadri’s show on this night.
“A throat slash? It should not be in the game, no,” Giordano said. “I just think it’s pretty stupid on his part to make that gesture.”
We’ll second that.
Kadri can count on a phone call from Hockey Ops, which has a history of disliking the gesture. A suspension seems far-fetched however, as unseemly as that move is. Kadri may face a stiffer wrath from his GM Lou Lamoriello, who surely abhors such actions.
Giordano’s primary task was to focus a team in turmoil, and collect two easy points before the Flames hit a stretch of games versus teams ahead of them in the standings. This wasn’t everyday stuff, losing Gaudreau and Monahan by choice, a punishment that stung more with all the players’ fathers in the stands in preparation for the upcoming “Dad’s Trip.”
“We knew it was coming internally. The guys made a mistake,” the Flames captain said. “At the end of the day our organization made the right decision, and they made it for the right reasons. You start doing things for reasons in the short term, it’ll come back to bite you.
“They made a mistake, and they won’t let it happen again — I can tell you that. There’s too much character there.”
Speaking of that, the Leafs spent the day figuring out how they will embark on life after Captain Phaneuf. Not only does he depart as the points leader on Toronto’s blue-line (3-21-24), he is tops in shots (116) and less than 30 seconds off the leading ice time among defencemen, averaging 22:01 per night.
“It was pretty emotional for a lot of guys,” Gardiner said of the trade. “One of our really good friends and a leader on our team. We just tried to refocus on the game.”
Intangibles such as leadership will be missed. But most critical is more than a period per night of ice time that now goes to players who likely don’t need the extra shifts.
“Other guys are going to have to step up,” Gardiner admits. “He was one of our top guys. Some of our young guys are going to have to step up.”