Quick Shifts: Could Ryan O’Reilly be swayed to re-sign in Toronto?

In this edition of Burning Questions, the Hockey Central panel discuss who Ryan O'Reilly's best line mates would be in the playoffs, who between the Flames or Jets will make the playoffs, and if Erik Karlsson has the Norris Trophy locked up.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Playoffs are a lot better than the regular season, I’ll tell you that for free.

1. We’ve reached the stage where the actual hockey will rightfully seize centre stage.

Still, lurking in the shadows of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ playoff experience — and, presumably, the minds of their many players and staff members with uncertain futures — will be what happens when the hockey is over, for good or sad.

Ryan O’Reilly — the grand deadline swing and passionate breath of wisdom on the Leafs’ bench — is doubling as both Toronto’s latest difference-maker and one of the NHL’s most compelling UFAs-to-be.

So many factors come into play when an in-demand player can select his own landing spot: a chance to win, long-term security, and money of course.

But when it comes to an emotional and familial connection, the Maple Leafs should have a leg up on some of the Ontario native’s other options this summer.

Another factor that could sway him to stay, with the franchise that paid a handsome sum to rent him for one run, is culture.

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Since his arrival, the exacting O’Reilly has been speaking glowingly about the level of detail in Leafland, be it from coaches in meetings, teammates offering opinions, or the development staff that helped him stay in shape and rehab from his finger surgery.

“It’s impressive,” says O’Reilly, now on his fourth NHL stop.

“I always knew there was lots of staff here and resources. Getting here and seeing it firsthand, it’s at first a little overwhelming. Once you kind of get a handle and get to know everyone, it’s pretty amazing, the help that you have to assist your play,” O’Reilly raves. 

“Like myself coming back from injury and just every facet of your meals to… everything. It’s just so elite and above everything I’ve seen before.”

At the risk of putting the cart before the horse, I ask O’Reilly if all these extras — doctors, development staff, nutritionists, resources — can make a difference when it comes time for him to sign a new contract.

“Yeah,” he replies, without skipping a beat. “Obviously, yeah, that’s for sure. We got playoffs still to come, but, yeah, there’s not a bad thing I can say for this organization. They do everything the right way. 

“And if something doesn’t work here, they’re changing, right? They’re always looking at ways to get better. And that’s the reason why it is such an amazing franchise.”

2. Some one-word Round 1 predictions…

Bruins over Panthers in 5


Maple Leafs over Lightning in 6


Islanders over Hurricanes in 7


Rangers over Devils in 7


Avalanche over Kraken in 5


Stars over Wild in 7


Golden Knights over Jets in 6


Oilers over Kings in 6


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3. The first-round mind games began before the schedule dropped.

Following Tuesday’s Maple Leafs–Lightning penalty-filled tune-up game in Tampa, players on both sides spoke to the intensity and emotions of a tone-setter that featured two fights and a boatload of post-whistle scrums.

Nick Paul described Tuesday as “playoff hockey.”

On the Leafs’ side, Coach Keefe extolled the competitiveness of his incomplete lineup coming out with a W in such a contest.

The message from Tampa coach Jon Cooper was opposite.

“There was zero intensity in that game,” Cooper said post-loss. “I’m telling you, there was none. So it may look like it from the stands. That was an exhibition game. It wasn’t even a regular-season game.”

Cooper may have been addressing his own group with such comments, his way of challenging them to elevate come Tuesday. 

But he also isn’t giving the Maple Leafs an inch in the verbal battle, and the gamesmanship has a head start.

The coach was also given a chance to credit Leafs backup Joseph Woll on a 46-save performance, and instead replied: “Hmm… we scored three. Should be enough to win. So, can’t give up four.”

Cooper routinely refers to his players as “gamers” — always on, forever clawing for any edge they can scrounge. The man behind the bench is a gamer, too.

Game on.

4. The Calgary Flames have a legitimate shot of being the Most Interesting Off-Season Franchise in back-to-back summers.

Respected GM Brad Treliving is an impending free agent. Head coach Darryl Sutter has job security, but his relationship with some players has long been under a microscope. UFA Milan Lucic wants to keep his career going. And MacKenzie Weegar is out here calling for a new arena.

Get ready for a newsy summer in Alberta.

5. Defenceman Conor Timmins’ initial reaction when coach Sheldon Keefe asked him to play right wing for the load-managing Maple Leafs?

“A lot of panic to begin with,” Timmins confessed, smiling.

Until this week, when he skated as a bottom-six forward for about 16 total minutes in Toronto’s road wins over the Lightning and Rangers, Timmins had never played a second of forward.

Never. Not even as a kid.

Let’s just say, Timmins was cautious in his new role. He fired one shot and was sure to keep his checks in full view.

“I was definitely F3 most of the game,” he chuckled. “It’s kind of nerve-racking when you have two guys behind you even though it’s just a 2-on-2, so I was trying to stay high a lot.”

The switch was good for his cardio, though.

The biggest adjustment?

“Just the skating and how much you’re just going the whole shift,” Timmins explained. “It just seems like the play’s happening all around you, and you’re just sprinting from one spot to another. On defence, a lot of the time you’re kind of gliding up the ice and reading the play in front of you.”

Cap inflexibility and a desire to rest key players for meaningful games tied Keefe’s hands when it came to dressing a proper lineup. Naturally, he kept his expectations for Timmins the winger low.

“Just have fun with it,” the coach told Timmins. 

“He’s an offensive guy. Any time you get a chance to be in uniform as an NHL player, especially for a guy like him that has worked very hard and played very little, you should just be excited to play.” 

6. In other Leafs lineup mayhem news…

Luke Schenn was sitting on the club’s second rink-bound bus in Sunrise Monday when his phone lit up with Keefe’s name on the caller ID.

“I thought it was a pocket dial because this doesn’t make any sense,” Schenn recalls.

Must be a mistake. 

Why would the coach be calling a healthy scratch in those pep-talk minutes between warmup and puck drop?

The defenceman had put in extra work at the morning skate and was intended to rest against the Florida Panthers with Erik Gustafsson drawing in.

Well, Gustafsson pulled up lame in warmup. So, Keefe was throwing out the Bat signal.

To get the boys laughing, Schenn popped out of his seat on the bus and threw down with a few high knees.

“I got there just in time for the anthem,” Schenn says.

The veteran typically stretches for 45 minutes to an hour pre-game to prep his 33-year-old body for banging. 

Instead, he was out warming up in that tiny window between The Star-Spangled Banner and face-off, and assistant coach Dean Chynoweth held the defenceman back until 8:16 of the first period so he could warm up on the bench and during the first TV timeout. 

“That was a new experience,” Schenn says, smiling. “I just jumped out onto the ice, and it was kind of like going into a beer-league game. Stretching the hips a little bit, and away you go.”

Keefe figures the adjustment to going in last minute speaks more to Schenn’s mental approach than his physical readiness.

“He just comes in with a good attitude,” Keefe says. “He had some fun with it. The guys did too.”

7. ’Tis a sad day when the Stanley Cup tournament begins without either Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin.

The Washington Capitals followed their 2018 championship with four consecutive series losses.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won their first series after parading in the summer of 2017. Then lost five straight series before missing the dance entirely this spring.

Just because you see the end coming doesn’t make it easier.

As the incredible 16-year postseason run for Sidney Crosby & Co. concludes, they are joined in misery with Nashville (eight straight) and Washington (eight as well).

That leaves Toronto and Boston (seven apiece) with the longest active streaks of postseason qualification.

(P.S. With Washington splitting ways with Peter Laviolette, I can’t help but think former Hersey Bears coach — and current Leafs assistant – Spencer Carbery would be in consideration as his successor.) 

8. The Maple Leafs’ front office could remain hands off with its back end this summer and still have a reasonable six-pack of NHL-level defencemen under contract for 2023-24:

McCabe – Brodie

Giordano – Liljegren

Rielly – Timmins

Here’s a hot take, before the playoffs start: Toronto should make a run at re-signing right-shot defender and pending UFA Justin Holl if he’s willing to go short term (three years?).

Despite eating almost as much criticism as he does pucks, Holl is a smart fit with the group’s needs and personality. Replacing him won’t be as simple as many think.

9. The Boston Bruins rewrote the record book with their ridiculous 65-win, plus-128 regular-season romp. And yet, the match-crunching minds at MoneyPuck.com have given both the Oilers (13.1%) and Avalanche (12%) better odds at lifting the Stanley Cup than the Bruins (11.7%).

No doubt, strength of conference comes into play here, as the East contains four of the top five teams in the NHL.

10. Fascinating to see the NBA fine the Mavericks $750,000 for blatantly resting good players in an elimination game against the Chicago Bulls in an effort to improve its chances of retaining their first-round pick in the upcoming draft.

“The Dallas Mavericks’ decision to restrict key players from fully participating in an elimination game last Friday against Chicago undermined the integrity of our sport,” Joe Dumars, the NBA’s head of basketball operations announced. “The Mavericks’ actions failed our fans and our league.”

What a contrast in stance compared to the NHL’s public position that tanking does not exist.

11. Sequence of the Week.

Curtis Lazar loses his stick. Lazar checks Rasmus Sandin in the corner, causing Sandin to lose his stick as well. Lazar picks up Sandin’s stick because he wants to play with it instead. Sandin bearhugs Lazar and whips him down to the ice, causing him to drop the stick. The two stickless men fight.

12. Not a fan of the clumsy conclusion of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ storied tenure as Chicago Blackhawks, but I’m sure we’ll one day see both future Hall of Famers immortalized in a statue outside United Center.

They deserve a better send-off.

That said, it was awesome that Toews scored in his farewell game.

Here’s hoping Toews’ health is in a place next fall where he can contribute to a contending team as a third-line centre and go out on his own terms.

“Happy he’s back playing and hope he can come back,” Kane said Thursday. 

“Maybe he can join another team because he’s a good person to have around the game. He’s good for the league, so I hope it all works out for him.”

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