A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. I don’t have the energy to look it up, but I bet the list of head coaches fired 14 days after coaching in the NHL All-Star Game is a short one.
Had a chance to speak with Michel Therrien twice over that weekend and was taken by how appreciative he was of the honour, how accommodating he was with his time.
Say what you will — and I was certainly of the mind Marc Bergevin should’ve fired him after/during the 2015-16 tire fire — but this is a man who understands the game is larger than him, and he was getting good results out of a flawed and oft-injured roster this season.
“Yes, I’m the one here, but it [represents] the great circle and dedication we’ve got this year from our players,” Therrien said that weekend in L.A.
“Before anything, we all grew up as a fan. If you’re a player, a coach, a reporter—we’re all fans of the game.
“I remember in my childhood I skipped school to go see the Stanley Cup parade in Montreal and didn’t tell my parents. We’re all fans.”
He laughed at the memory.
“We’ve got a chance to make a living and be part of the NHL. I think we’re fortunate to be part of that.”
2. More Therrien from my notebook.
On Sidney Crosby, newest member of the 1,000 Point Club: “He’s going to be 30 this year, eh? Times go fast.
“I got a chance to work with the guy when he was real young. He impressed me at 18. At 19 he won the scoring title. I was impressed.
“But I’ve been watching his games [lately], and he’s on top of his game. You’re talking about maturity, understanding the game, every aspect of the game—he’s the best player in the game as far as I’m concerned.”
Therrien also said he was cheering the Penguins on during their Cup run last spring and takes a small measure of pride from that championship, knowing he played a part in their early development: “I was always really happy for them.”
On the Maple Leafs: “I believe this is the team of the future. With the young kids they have, they’re playing really well, playing with confidence.”
On the possibility of a Montreal-Toronto playoff series for the first time since 1979: “Players feel it. Both cities feel it. It’s always fun to be a part of it. From a fan standpoint, Toronto-Montreal would be a unique situation, really special…. Eventually it’s going to happen.
On whether captain Max Pacioretty should’ve been named to his first All-Star Game: “He’s doing a phenomenal job as a leader. He’s better surrounded this year. We have guys who bring leadership to our group. I’m talking about Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw. I feel like a better coach this year because we added Kirk Muller. You want to be well surrounded. Myself and Patch are certainly better surrounded. Do I believe he should’ve been [an all-star]? Of course.
“He’s got a ton of character. He didn’t want to miss any games [with a hairline foot fracture in November]. He missed only a few practices, not much. It shows dedication.”
3. One more on the Habs. Montreal has the worst penalty minute differential in the league and it’s not even close. The Canadiens have taken 119 more PIMs than they’ve drawn. Part of that falls on coaching.
The next two worst clubs in this category? Colorado (minus-85) and Arizona (minus-77), the NHL’s cellar dwellers.
The three teams with the best PIM differential are all legit contenders: the Rangers (plus-77), Blackhawks (plus-60) and Sharks (plus-58).
4. The Washington Capitals are the best team in hockey right now, so naturally they’re already thinking about their old nemesis: the playoffs.
GM Brian MacLellan picked up depth D-man Tom Gilbert for peanuts this week, the sting of losing Brooks Orpik in the 2016 post-season still fresh.
Now, even if the Caps hang on to the No. 1 seed in the Metropolitan Division and get a soft Round 1 opponent, their second divisional round will be a beast. Pittsburgh? New York? No, thanks.
Such is the risk of the bracket-style system, which favours rivalry-building over rewarding regular-season records.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who’ll say they like the format the way it is right now, but that’s out of our control. You got to go through the best teams to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the way it is,” Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said.
“To be successful, you control the controllables. Control what we can. That’s what summer meetings are for between the PA and the NHL.”
Philadelphia star Wayne Simmonds told me he’s never played in a group this tough.
“The top four teams in the Metro are some of the top four, five, six in the league. It’s an unbelievable division. Every time we play one of those guys, it’s a four-point game,” Simmonds said.
“It’s a lot of high-octane hockey. A lot of offensive players with a ton of skill. Teams swarm you a lot. Tons of speed, so you have to play an up-pace game.”
5. At this rate, we need to stop thinking about Brent Burns for the Norris and start thinking about Brent Burns for the Hart.
Thursday morning, Burns woke up tied with Crosby for second in the Art Ross race with 61 points. At 25 goals, he’s top 10 in the Maurice Richard Trophy rankings. He’s a defenceman.
“People always ask me what my goals are for points. I don’t think about that. I want to stay healthy—that’s my big thing,” Burns said recently.
He marvels at ironman Andrew Cogliano and teammate Patrick Marleau, who played consecutive game No. 600 this week.
“That’s just incredible,” said Burns, who hasn’t missed a game himself since 2013-14.
“That’s the hardest thing. Think about how crazy our game is, how many times you’re getting hit, how many times you’re flying on a long flight and you hear a guy coughing in the back of the plane, and you’re like, ‘Throw that guy in the bathroom! We don’t wanna get sick!’ We go from warm weather to a cold city to a medium-temperature city, then back to a cold city… it’s crazy. You see guys playing through stuff all the time.”
6. Colby Armstrong had a great term for the quick-release point shot — a snapper-wrister hybrid — Burns uses so frequently to squeak pucks through to the net through a crowd: the sifter.
Burns names Crosby and Sharks captain Joe Pavelski as the game’s best deflectors of pucks.
“I’m always trying to look for him. His skill with the hand-eye is amazing,” Burns explains. “And he battles for position to get there.”
7. If I’m the St. Louis Blues — winners of five straight while giving up just three goals total over that span — I’m not trading Kevin Shattenkirk for a first-round pick in a soft draft. Only if the package blows me away.
Would it really be that surprising to see the Blues return to the Western Conference final? You take your chances when you have them.
Dealing Shattenkirk for futures not only removes your power-play quarterback from the fold but sends a dispiriting message to the rest of the roster: We don’t believe you can do it now.
Bad karma on you if you actually bet on this. A man lost his employment… but, y’know, I’m up 40 bucks, so yay for me!
Despite the Stars’ defensive woes and iffy goaltending, Ruff wants them to press.
“We like to get that fourth man in the rush, which is a green light to go,” he says. “We take an offensive posture in the offensive zone with our defencemen, which gives our forwards those extra opportunity.”
When the Stars rolled through Toronto last week, Ruff offered his take on how Mike Babcock, with whom he shared a Team Canada bench, uses his young Leafs.
“If you’re down, you let everything go. You try to play players to their strengths,” Ruff said. “He’s got a lot of players he’s trying to play to their strengths, and their strength is the offensive side of the game.”
9. Jonathan Huberdeau is the best story of the month.
Due to a severed tendon, the Panthers centre didn’t start his season until Feb. 3 and has instantly looked in mid-season form: seven points and two game-winning goals in four games played.
“That’s a serious injury he had,” GM/coach Tom Rowe said on a conference call Thursday.
Rowe raved about Huberdeau’s mental toughness. He appreciates the player even more now that he’s seeing him up close.
“He’s got unbelievable poise with the puck, and, man, oh, man, he’s probably one of the better passing wingers in the league,” Rowe said.
“That [Huberdeau-Barkov-Jagr] line is a pleasure to watch. And when you go over video, you get to watch it again. It’s an awful lot of fun.”
10. A struggling Carey Price spoke on new fatherhood.
“Your priorities change as you get older and have a family,” Liv’s dad said recently.
“You can’t help but wake up when you hear your child crying. Other than that, things are going well. It’s a lot easier to let the game go when you have a smiling baby at home.”
“Could you handle a second one?” a reporter asked.
11. The Harvard Crimson defeated Boston University 6-4 in Boston’s collegiate championship Monday, claiming its first Beanpot since 1993.
The Beanpot is kinda like a big deal in Massachusetts.
“One of the most exciting times of the year,” says Columbus Blue Jackets star Cam Atkinson.
The Boston College alum lights up when talking about his own Beanpot victory in 2011.
“My mom doesn’t drink whatsoever, and we put the Pot on the table after we won it [and filled it]. She had a little sip of a beer. I’ll never forget that,” Atkinson said.
“When you know your mom doesn’t drink and to see her enjoy it, it was pretty special.”
12. To think: this week Patrik Laine registered his third hat trick and is not the Calder favourite.
But there’s time for more.
“Last year, my second half was way better than my first half,” Laine warned.
True. He exploded for Tappara Tampere down the stretch and was a playoff monster in the Finnish Elite League last spring, putting up 10 goals and 15 points in 18 post-season contests en route to his native league’s playoff MVP award.