The tribute at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night was generous, and it was striking, speaking to Dion Phaneuf on Saturday, how much more at-ease he was with the burden of the Maple Leaf captaincy have been lifted from him.
My words, not his. Phaneuf went out of his way to say he never felt wearing the “C” was a burden. But his demeanor, his body language, his smile all told a different story.
This was a player who experienced multiple coaching and GM changes while a Leaf, all kinds of roster alterations, saw the entire organization shift its philosophy on player acquisition, and yet some wanted to single him out as the root of all the problems.
I mean, seriously.
That said, Phaneuf’s arrival in Ottawa hasn’t in the short-term accomplished what Bryan Murray had hoped it might, which is spur another late run to the post-season. The Senators needed Martin Marincin to hand them the game on Saturday night to beat the Leafs, then went home and lost a tight one to Jason Spezza and the Dallas Stars on Sunday.
The Sens have 15 games left and are six points out of a wild card berth, having played two more games than Detroit. They’re 6-6-1 since acquiring Phaneuf and his outsized contract from the Leafs, not good enough to make up ground on anyone, and slightly worse in terms of winning percentage than they were before they made the Leaf deal.
It’s been that kind of year in Ottawa, where all the magic from last season has basically vanished. Andrew (The Hamburgler) Hammond has been healthy enough to play only 17 games. Mark Stone has been solid with 20 goals, but nothing like the end of last season when he finished with 47 points in his final 46 games.
Head coach Dave Cameron hasn’t been able to nudge the team into greater consistency. He and the team’s leading goal-scorer, winger Mike Hoffman, aren’t seeing eye-to-eye much these days. Hoffman played one shift in the third against the Leafs on Saturday, and on Sunday, he played only 13:46, ninth among Ottawa forwards in terms of ice time. Both newly signed Scott Gomez and callup Ryan Dzingle played more.
The Phaneuf deal didn’t cost Ottawa too much, a second rounder and a prospect, and the Sens were the only Canadian team that made an aggressive move to try and qualify for post-season play. So that’s something.
Phaneuf certainly seems in a better place. But like Winnipeg and Calgary, second-half success last season for the Senators hasn’t translated into a playoff season this year, a crushing disappointment.
The future? They’ll pay $14.5 million in salary next year to Phaneuf and Bobby Ryan, neither of whom are front-line stars, and now they’ll have to come up with a number for Hoffman, who made $2 million this season and has scored 25 goals despite having taken up residence in Cameron’s doghouse.
Prospect deal close?
Vancouver should be able to work out the details and get 6-foot-7 defence prospect Nikita Tryamkin signed this week, although it’s been a challenge.
The 21-year-old’s KHL season ended on Thursday. Theoretically, his contract doesn’t expire until May 1st, but if he’s willing not to be paid over the final weeks, his club team will release him.
For the Canucks, they’ve got various cap complications emanating from the decisions surounding whether to put Brandon Sutter and/or Alex Edler on long-term injured reserve, thus creating the space to sign Tryamkin and pursue other transactions. The inability to move various UFAs-in-waiting like Dan Hamhuis last week didn’t ease the situation.
Assuming Tryamkin can get signed, the next challenge may be to see if goalie prospect Thatcher Demko is ready to leave Boston College after his junior season. Usually, teams can use the ability to “burn” the first year of an entry level contract as an inducement, but the Canucks may not have the cap flexiblity to do that.
If that’s the case, and Demko chooses to stay at school for his senior season, the 20-year-old San Diego native could be an unrestricted free agent in August 2017.
It’s that tricky situation Nashville is facing right now with Harvard winger Jimmy Vesey and Calgary is facing with Providence centre Mark Jankowski. The Predators, in fact, went out of their way to make it known they didn’t make moves at the deadline specifically to let Vesey know there’s a spot in their NHL lineup available to him immediately if he chooses to sign at the conclusion of his NCAA season.
Strong deadline in Edmonton
The Oilers will miss the playoffs this season, but they may have done as well as anybody at the trade deadline last week.
It’s early, of course, but after only three games, former Anaheim winger Patrick Maroon has two goals and two assists and seems to represent an effort by GM Pete Chiarelli to start diversifying his lineup for next season.
Justin Schultz and Teddy Purcell, both skill players, went out the door, and Maroon, a banger, came in. You have to believe that after a year watching the Oilers and all their high-skill youngsters, this is Chiarelli’s first move to change the way the club looks and plays going forward.
A decent 4-5-1 push of late now makes it seem unlikely the Oilers will finish dead last -- with their .433 winning percentage better than Toronto’s .406 percentage -- and the Leafs having played four fewer games and looking like they might be challenged to hit the 60-point plateau this season.
The draft trap
Watching Nail Yakupov play Sunday night, it was easy to see how the NHL draft traps players into being perceived a certain way.
By being the No. 1 pick in his draft year, Yakupov is now perceived as a massive underachiever, a one-dimensional forward unable to play an effective 200-foot game or cement himself as a rock solid piece of Edmonton’s foundation.
In a very general sense, you could argue he and Toronto’s Nazem Kadri are similar kinds of players. But Kadri went seventh in his draft year in a draft that was seven players deep. Toronto couldn’t have done any better, and now they’re just trying to figure out whether Kadri can be a major part of their future. If he’d been the No. 1 pick, like Yakupov, the expectations would have been entirely different, and the disappointment as to where he is at this point in his career much greater.
Or look at Dylan Larkin of the Red Wings. He’s a very good player, but being the 15th pick of his draft season has allowed him to be perceived as a gigantic surprise. If the 2014 draft were to be done over, he’d compete with Aaron Ekblad for the No. 1 pick, which would have made him a much more scrutinized player.
Larkin has 19 goals on a good Detroit team, while Sam Reinhart, who was the second pick after Ekblad that year, has 18 goals on a weak Buffalo team. But Larkin is seen as the star-in-waiting, while Reinhart’s effective season hasn’t attracted anywhere close to the same attention.
That’s what the draft does to the perception of young players.
Yakupov, meanwhile, has gone from scoring 17 goals in 48 games in his rookie season to scoring just six in 46 games this season. It’s not hard to see him as an Oiler on the move this summer.
The Cowen Situation
You understand the logic behind it. Still, it seems highly unusual to watch how former first round draft pick Jared Cowen has been handled by both the Ottawa Senators and the Leafs this season.
Cowen, 25, is in the final year of a four-year, $12.4 million contract, and because of his age and the way his contract is structured, he can be bought out for one-third of its value this summer, rather than two-thirds, and his buyout figure can be used as a salary cap credit for teams in a certain predicament next season.
The Leafs may still be able to trade Cowen to a team that wants that benefit. As it stands, Ottawa gave up on him, and Toronto never gave him a change. Instead, they’ve told Cowen their intention is to buy him out and don’t want him practicing or playing, as an injured player can’t be bought out.
So Cowen has gone home to Ottawa with permission to start talking to other teams now, rather than waiting until July 1. For the ninth pick of the 2009 draft, it’s been a big fall. He’ll now get therapy on his hip to try and get that 100 per cent healthy again, and undoubtedly sign for $1 million or less to be somebody’s fifth or sixth defenceman next season.
Rinaldo had just received a five-game suspension from NHL player safety chief Stephane Quintal when Boston demoted him.
On Friday night, he appeared to hit Bridgeport’s Kane LaFranchise in the back of the head with a forearm shiver, and was ejected.
No push from the Devils
Dumping the salary of veteran winger Lee Stempniak with winger Mike Cammalleri out with a long-term injury was a sign the New Jersey Devils weren’t going to make a hard playoff push at the trade deadline. The loss of goalie Cory Schneider to a knee injury on the weekend pretty much seals their fate.
Schneider suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain to his right knee on Friday night against Dallas and will likely miss the rest of this month, if not the season. He has been New Jersey’s best player, appearing in 55 of the team’s 67 games with a .923 save percentage.
It means the Devils will almost certainly miss the playoffs in the first season without Lou Lamoriello at the helm since 1987. Attendance has dipped below 15,000 a game, and it’s the fourth straight year out of the post-season for Jersey since making a surprise run to the 2012 Stanley Cup final against L.A., losing in six games.
Ray Shero took on a big job following in Lamoriello’s rather large shoes, and this season proves it. The Devils have some good prospects, but they seem to be one of teams that are neither fish nor fowl, not good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to get the very best juniors at draft time.
Without Schneider, the Devils would likely have been significantly worse this season. But now, with an outside shot to make the playoffs, his loss came at about the worst possible time.
Tom Kostopoulos had more than a few moments in the sun.
So the fact he became the fourth player ever to play 600 games in the NHL and 600 in the AHL on the weekend shouldn’t be a bittersweet mark at all. The Mississauga, Ont., native has made the most of his talents in 17 pro seasons, and for seven of those seasons he was almost exclusively an NHL grinder with L.A., Montreal, Calgary and Carolina.
He joins Dave Creighton, Jim Morrison and current Florida Panther winger Shawn Thornton as members of the 600-600 club.
In case you missed it, 34-year-old Michael Leighton of Rockford broke Johnny Bower’s long-standing AHL shutout record last week with his 46th career whitewash. Bower’s mark had stood for almost 59 years.
The struggle continues
Clark MacArthur can’t quite figure it out.
“Must have had my Wheaties that day,” he chuckles.
MacArthur has been out since the fourth game of the season after suffering a third concussion in eight months. He now says it was “stupid” to try to play in those early season games when he wasn’t feeling well at all from a previous concussion.
At the beginning the year, MacArthur took a baseline test ostensibly designed to measure brain function. The exercise involves a memory test, along with written portions and other exercises done on computer.
He’s symptom-free these days, he says, but in this last three tries, the latest of which was just over a week ago, he hasn’t been able to score as high on the test as he did on his baseline effort.
So he sits, helplessly watching his teammates fall out of the playoff race, with four years left on a contract that pays him $4.65 million per season.
He now says he hopes to play in the last “three or four” games of the regular season.