30 Thoughts: P.K. Subban now at another level


P.K. Subban. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)

In NFL circles, they call it “The Body Bag Game.”

Washington vs. Philadelphia, Nov. 12, 1990. Philly coach Buddy Ryan had a brutal defence, led by Reggie White, Seth Joyner and the late Jerome Brown. With two quarterbacks already out of the lineup, Washington only dressed Jeff Rutledge and Stan Humphries at the spot.

The Eagles mangled their opponents that evening, as at least five of them were carried off the field. That included both quarterbacks, with running back Brian Mitchell eventually having to take over the position.

It was so bad, The Washington Post reported Eagles players were yelling, “You guys are going to need an extra bus just to carry all the stretchers!” And, “Do you guys need any more body bags?” (Hence the nickname.)

The NFL changed some rules after that carnage. If a team had only two quarterbacks dressed on its 45-man roster, a third would be allowed to suit up, “but if he enters the game during the first three quarters, the other two quarterbacks are thereafter prohibited from playing.”

Later, the league dropped the prohibition and allowed 46 active players.

Watching Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya both get injured during Florida’s 3-2 loss to Toronto reminded me of that game. The circumstances aren’t completely similar (there was no intent to injure), but the effect on the afflicted team was the same.

Just like Joe Gibbs watched helplessly as his team fell behind, Gerard Gallant steamed as an injured Montoya gamely tried his best to man the position. His tremendous effort was not rewarded, as Peter Holland scored the winning goal.

What really stood out, though, was the craziness around the Panthers bench. Derek MacKenzie and Scottie Upshall went back to put on the goalie equipment. Luongo showed up in his street clothes, going back into the game after a trip to the hospital. GM Dale Tallon angrily storming around the hallway. Watching on TV from a restaurant near Anaheim, I couldn’t figure out why Gallant and Tallon were so furious.

As we now know, the team had a plan in case this extreme situation occurred, dressing goalie coach Robb Tallas. The former NHLer did this two years ago when one Panther netminder went down, so there was precedence and protocol. This time, however, there was a problem. The league did not immediately approve Tallas to play.

You can’t blame the coach and GM for losing it. Those minutes must have seemed like hours. You’re sitting there, an unlikely playoff chaser, one win away from tying the Boston Bruins for the final spot. Your opponent is on a 16-game road losing streak. It’s tied. You’ve got to like your chances.

One goalie goes down. Another goalie goes down. You’ve got a plan, but you’re not allowed to use it. Aaaaaaaargh!

The craziest thing was thinking how much time and effort the NHL has put into Florida. Through all the ownership changes and local challenges, the league’s done everything it can think of to make things work.

A surprise run to the playoffs is the best-case 2014-15 scenario for the Panthers. Imagine if they miss by two points?

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported the league will look at this at the GM meetings starting March 16.

It’s an easy fix. Just like the NFL did, add an extra spot to the lineup sheet. List an emergency goalie, someone who only dresses in case of injury. The Panthers found a way to laugh at the predicament, creating a fan contest to fill the position.

It’s a marketing home run, but you know the hockey operations guys are gritting their teeth. Teams have found replacements before. Make them official, and no important in-game time gets wasted.


1. Does anyone else think the Las Vegas expansion team gets announced at the NHL Awards?

2. Everyone’s weighed in on what happened with Dion Phaneuf, so allow two more theories. First, there wasn’t enough time for the Maple Leafs and Red Wings to put together such a complex deal on short notice. Second, the Braydon Coburn trade changed everything. Whatever the two teams may have considered, that was altered by Philadelphia’s return for the non-rental defenceman (Radko Gudas, a first-round pick and a third-rounder).

Toronto considers Phaneuf a better player than Coburn, so it would look at that return and say, “We’ve got to have at least that.” Coburn’s contract is nowhere near as onerous as Phaneuf’s, though.

3. My guess is the pre-Coburn plan centred around Phaneuf, Stephen Weiss and Brendan Smith. The Maple Leafs understood they’d have to take Weiss’s contract to make it work. Smith makes sense because, like the Toronto captain, he’s a left-shot. He’s also due for a raise so adding salary means someone has to go.

There were reports the Maple Leafs asked for Anthony Mantha, but I’m not sure that was a major sticking point.

You should ask high, understanding your trade partner will probably say no. The bigger issue might be draft picks. GM Ken Holland made it very clear he wasn’t trading his first-rounder and their second went to Nashville in the David Legwand trade. So, any draft considerations would have had to wait until 2016. If the two teams want to re-visit this after the season, some groundwork has been done.

No doubt Toronto will try to see if anyone who loses in the playoffs decides Phaneuf can help them.

4. The whole situation in Toronto this week brought back memories of Montreal in 2009, when the newspaper La Presse reported a few players had ties to organized crime. Hockey Night in Canada did a game in Pittsburgh the night before the story broke. The Canadiens were looking for reporters after the game, quietly asking if they knew who was going to be mentioned and what was going to be said.

Some of them were really scared and others were furious. It was like wildfire burning out of control. On top of everything else, the frustration of not being traded compounded the situation for some of the Maple Leafs. The season is ending terribly, you feel under siege, some idiot makes a Twitter accusation and it’s like Southwest Airlines — “Wanna Get Away?”

It’s an ugly, ugly combination. Bob Gainey cleaned house that summer to start fresh. He had many free agents, so it was easier to do so. But Toronto is going to try.

5. The salary cap floor is $51M. Right now, Toronto is committed to spending almost $51.5 million on players who are not in their NHL lineup. They are Nathan Horton ($26 million, won’t play again), Mikhail Grabovski $14.3 million (compliance buyout), Tim Gleason $5.3 million (regular buyout), Mike Komisarek $2.3 million (compliance buyout), Colton Orr $925,000 (in AHL), Matt Frattin $800,000 (in AHL), Frazer McLaren $700,000 (in AHL), Troy Bodie $600,000 (in AHL), Carl Gunnarsson $400,000 (retained salary in trade) and Daniel Winnik, approximately $160,000 (retained salary in trade).

Komisarek, Orr, McLaren, Bodie and Winnik come off the books in July. You can’t say ownership isn’t willing to help.

6. Chicago’s Patrick Sharp also defended himself against ugly Internet rumours that popped up amidst reports he was going to be traded. Sharp’s contract carries a clause that, if the Blackhawks want to trade him, they can ask for 10 places he will go to and he must submit within 48 hours, or he can be sent anywhere.

That didn’t happen. What is possible is the team got calls — from Washington, among them — but never took it to Sharp, because the ask was high and potential partners didn’t like the request. It is believed, for example, the price for the Capitals included Joel Ward and a first-rounder, too much for their taste. Chicago is going all out to win again before the Kane and Toews extensions kick-in, so don’t be surprised if this is re-visited in the summer.

7. When you look at the cost of rentals, it shouldn’t be surprising Tampa paid that price for Coburn. At the 2013 NHL Draft, Edmonton thought it was getting Coburn for three second-round draft picks, only to have then-Flyers GM Paul Holmgren change his mind at the last minute.

Holmgren, who acquired the defender from Atlanta, has great affinity for him. At his best, Coburn could really skate with the puck. Whatever the reason (confidence, injuries), he’s struggled with that. If the Lightning can get him back to that level, he’s going to be a big help.

8. There’s no doubt Tampa looked at how it lost Richard Panik on waivers and felt there was no way to allow the same possibility with Brett Connolly. They’ve developed so many good young forwards there just isn’t room for them all. There were a few GMs disappointed they didn’t get a chance to make the same offer Boston did. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bryan Murray was one of them. Connolly is exactly the kind of player the Senators are looking for.

9. Look at Boston’s right wing: Connolly (once he gets healthy), Loui Eriksson, David Pastrnak and Reilly Smith. Eriksson and Smith shoot left, but there’s no way those four guys are all on that side for the Bruins next season, is there?

10. Thought the Bruins played it smart. They made a mistake on the Tyler Seguin trade. Why compound it with another short-term move, especially when this is not going to be their year? If I was either Peter Chiarelli or Claude Julien, I’d let a Stanley Cup, a second Finals berth and last year’s Presidents’ Trophy speak. Let the chips fall where they may.

11. Received an interesting note from a source who indicated that last June he’d heard the Islanders offered the fifth overall selection in the draft to Arizona for Keith Yandle. Both teams denied that, but when you pencil in how things would be different, it’s better for both organizations it never happened.

If the Islanders get Yandle and Dan Boyle (who they also wanted), they don’t acquire Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy and the Coyotes don’t receive the extra picks and prospects from the Rangers. Apparently, it was a Glen Sather phone call three days before the deadline that ignited Yandle talks.

12. Arizona could not trade Martin Erat because there was no more space to retain salary. Teams can retain three, with the Coyotes maxed out on Zbynek Michalek, David Rundblad and Keith Yandle. Someone snickered when I mentioned Rundblad, but the draft pick obtained with his move to Chicago became Christian Dvorak. He’s having a huge year with OHL London.

13. One appreciative Coyote on Michalek: “He played through injuries that made you shake your head and respect him even more.”

14. The goalie market this summer is going to be fascinating. It’s no secret Ottawa planned to make some kind of Craig Anderson/Robin Lehner decision. Lehner’s disappointing season muddles that because they can’t be certain he’s a full-time starter. And, what does his performance do to his trade value?

Andrew Hammond’s sudden surge adds an interesting variable. This is too small a sample size to make any sweeping judgments, but, if you’re the Senators, which one do you try to trade? If Anderson gets you the most, will you go into 2015-16 with a Hammond/Lehner combo?

15. From the outside, there is a growing belief Toronto isn’t ready to make a full-time financial commitment to Jonathan Bernier. They’ve dipped their toes in the water on him, seeing what’s out there. Logic suggests San Jose would be a fit, but another exec suggested the Sharks will wait to see every available option before choosing whom to pursue.

There have been several reports of the Oilers heavily scouting Bernier and James Reimer, but, again, it does not look like they are Edmonton’s first choice. The Oilers were also in the Antti Raanta race when he first came to North America, but word is they aren’t interested in re-visiting that idea, either.

16. Teams also warn not to count out San Jose among teams interested in NCAA goalie Matt O’Connor. Sharks director of scouting Tim Burke lives in Massachusetts. Short commute.

17. The more you look into it, the more you get the impression Anaheim will have the most influence in these conversations. The Ducks have Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, young talents who both look like number ones. They’ll see how the playoffs go before making any kind of decision, and what complicates matters for other teams is it makes sense for GM Bob Murray to wait another year. (I tried to ask Murray about it this week but he wasn’t biting.)

Andersen and Gibson each have one more season before their contracts end, at a combined $1.9 million. That kind of cost certainty is extremely valuable for a budget team. I could see Buffalo, Edmonton, San Jose, Toronto and others all interested in what this team does.

18. The Sabres are expected to look at some youthful options, but if they chase a veteran, it’s believed they have interest in unrestricted free agent Antti Niemi. If that doesn’t work, would Kari Lehtonen be a fit? Lindy Ruff is going to have a stroke if this continues and Jim Nill talked in this space about how difficult Lehtonen finds the adjustment on a better defensive team as opposed to a porous one. He could could help the Sabres, because while Buffalo hopes to improve, it’s unlikely they would be airtight.

19. Mikhail Grigorenko is expected to get time between Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta this weekend, and plenty of minutes for the rest of the season. His entry level contract is up this summer, and this is going to be a fascinating negotiation. No doubt the Sabres are happier with his effort, but he’s still not where anyone hoped he’d be as an offensive player.

Something to look for: in the defensive zone, does he go get the puck himself, or does he play a little higher, hoping someone gets it to him?

20. For me, Anaheim was the most interesting deadline team. They made a lot of changes for a group that was within two points of the NHL lead. But, after going there for two days, it was clear executives, coaches and players thought it was a mirage.

“There’s no question we are better now,” Francois Beauchemin said. “Our goalies were bailing us out,” a teammate said.

The Ducks thought they handled the heavier opponents, but were rag-dolled by the speed demons. It went back to last year’s playoff series against Dallas, and continued through this season, with a particularly bad performance last month in a 4-1 home loss to Tampa.

21. Once Korbinian Holzer and James Wisniewski get healthy enough to play, that will make 16 defencemen to dress for Anaheim this season — with nine potentially available on any given night. Wisniewski isn’t known for his speed, but the Ducks wanted him because of his shot. He’s got a good one, and they don’t feel anyone else on the blueline gives them a similar weapon.

22. Bob Murray did share some excitement over the acquisition of Simon Despres. He said he was going to draft Despres in 2009 with an early second-round draft pick (37th overall), but the Penguins, who won the Stanley Cup that season, grabbed him with the final selection of the first round. A lefty shot, Despres played the right side in his first game for Anaheim. Not sure they want that to continue.

23. I had some interesting conversations with Eastern Conference teams about Pittsburgh and Montreal. Post-deadline, the Penguins blueline combos in Colorado were Kris Letang/Paul Martin, Ben Lovejoy/Derrick Pouliot and Ian Cole/Rob Scuderi.

When we did a Pittsburgh game in Edmonton last month, coach Mike Johnston was concerned about the compete level 15-20 feet in front of the opposition net. Were his players willing to battle in the greasy areas to score? Opponents are more curious about the other end. That defence will move the puck very well, but if trapped in their own end, will need that same battle level, especially from back-checking forwards. It is not a heavy group.

24. Johnston’s other concern that day was pace. There are some quick teams in the East and he thought they were falling behind. Right-shooting David Perron likes to play the left side, but was temporarily sent to Sidney Crosby’s starboard.

He said, “I played with Taylor Hall, but there is something” about Crosby’s first steps through the neutral zone that make him even faster. Perron explained that the extra half-second it takes to accept a pass on the off-wing slowed him down just enough to upset the line. Patric Hornqvist’s return has him back there, so it’s something to monitor.

25. One Eastern Conference executive: “P.K. Subban is so much better a defenceman now than when he won the Norris Trophy. It’s not even close.”

In fact, he (and others) believe Subban isn’t getting enough consideration for this year’s award.

26. Subban’s great improvement is in using his stick to break up plays, and knowing when to carry the puck up ice as opposed to supporting the rush. The Canadiens prefer their defencemen to support it, because, if a defender is doing so, it usually means forwards have to stop or slow down to accommodate a later arrival.

Subban’s gifts give him more carries than others, but he’s more judicious about it. He’s also played more 30-minute games than anyone else, and gritted through a sore foot two weeks ago when the Canadiens desperately needed it.

27. Carey Price is Carey Price. You know how hard beating him is going to be. But, after him, wearing down the Subban/Andrei Markov pairing is your top priority in a playoff series. It’s hard to hit Subban, because he’s so strong and knows how to use his back to shield himself. Watch the Anaheim game from Wednesday. The Ducks got him a few times, and teams will look at that to see if there’s any magic to where they put the puck or situations they put him in.

In last year’s playoffs, Subban’s power created situations where opponents shied away from a hit. The desire is to come after him hard, hoping that a hit in Game 1 pays off in Game 5.

28. Michel Therrien gave his players a day off after the 4-0 loss in San Jose, then held more of a practice than a morning skate in Anaheim. Tom Gilbert told Jeff Petry not to get down on himself when he made the inevitable early mistakes switching to the Canadiens’ system, because Montreal uses its defence on the neutral-zone forecheck a bit differently than most. They are asked to challenge more, so the forwards have to be prepared to cover. (Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell said it was much different than Buffalo.)

29. One of Charlie Huddy’s first jobs after acquiring Tyler Myers? Getting Myers to better utilize his reach.

“He’s got an extra three feet,” the Jets’ assistant coach said. “Can he use it to pin (an attacker) on the boards, to create hesitation?”

Huddy says Myers has a habit of keeping two hands on the stick. There are times when that’s necessary, but not when you have the wingspan he does and hope to disrupt an opponent’s offence.

30. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said this week he would not coach an NBA game in July, even if it was a Game 7.

“Count me out. Life is too short,” he told reporters.

The question came in response to an idea floated by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to extend the season into that month. Jim Rutherford, when the GM in Carolina, had the same idea for the NHL. He said it would ease the hard in-season schedule and wouldn’t affect TV audiences, because fans who want to watch the Stanley Cup would still do so.

There’s good logic to it, but there’s probably a better chance of me getting a Sharknado 3 cameo than this occurring.

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