31 Thoughts: NHL trade market beginning to take shape

Teammates congratulate New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) after he scored a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators, Monday, Dec. 16, 2019. (Kathy Willens/AP)

• Big decisions to be made on pending UFA goalies
• Could the Flames make a move?
• Why the Leafs could trade a young forward

If you don’t know someone, you have to be careful when joking around with them.

“It’s ok, you can joke about it,” laughed Eric Comrie, minutes after AHL Manitoba finished its Monday practice. “I’m doing a lot better now that I’m back in a familiar place.”

Sept. 7, 2019 — Jets sign Eric Comrie to a two-year, $1.4 million contract

Comrie knows Winnipeg extremely well, joining the Moose as a full-time pro in 2015-16. He played 178 games in four years, getting a taste of the NHL with five appearances for the Jets. Manitoba was supposed to be his 2019-20 home.

But, as my grandmother used to say, “You plan, God laughs.”

“I knew I was going to go on waivers,” Comrie said. “(Jets backup) Laurent Brossoit had a great year (last season). I was ready to go down to the Moose, push as hard as I can.” Brossoit is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Comrie knew if he impressed, he’d have a great shot at being Connor Hellebuyck’s backup for 2020-21.

Instead, he began a wild 90-day adventure that took him through three organizations, five teams and one unexpected change after another. Comrie does not come across as bitter, or the least bit angry at what happened. But there’s no doubt he’s hoping the whirlwind is over.

“It was different,” he said. “I’m thankful for the opportunities. It was hard not knowing where you were going to be, after knowing every single day for the last four years.”

Sept. 30, 2019 — Jets place Comrie on waivers
Oct. 1, 2019 — Claimed by Arizona

After being claimed by the Coyotes, Comrie couldn’t immediately report because of visa issues. He and his girlfriend of six years, Haley Hull, headed back to their summer residence in Newport Beach, CA.

“I’d just gone grocery shopping, getting supplies — like paper towels — for the whole year,” Hull laughed. “Whatever you can’t use, you’re texting all the other wives and girlfriends, trying to divvy up stuff to everyone. Eric has a guitar, and I’m asking, ‘Who wants a guitar?’”

Hull, who is learning to become a Pilates instructor, was able to join Comrie on this odyssey. They spent two weeks in a Doubletree Hotel, before moving into a condominium.

“We spent a lot of time together,” Hull said. “Driving a lot of miles, flying a lot of miles.”

“I felt bad for her,” Comrie added. “She handled it great.”

“It was a lot of packing…pretty crazy,” she continued. “We’ve been in Winnipeg for so long, it was nice to experience other places. But it can be scary. The women from the other teams were incredible. Before we even got to a new city, they’d already reached out to me.”

“They do a lot of charity in Arizona. It’s not the biggest hockey market, but they make sure (the wives/girlfriends) get together and do work in the community. I liked that. Everyone felt like a family.”

Comrie was activated to the roster on Oct. 10, and spent a month with the Coyotes before being sent to AHL Tucson on a conditioning stint. He went 4-0 for the Roadrunners.

“One of the best things about what happened was that I worked with some new people on my game,” he said. In Arizona, it is Corey Schwab with the big club and Zac Bierk at the developmental level. Comrie valued the fresh perspectives and tinkering.

“Corey told me, ‘Don’t go anywhere and try and be perfect.’ He’d tell me to focus on the next shot, accept the results and move on.” Schwab also told him not to “get sucked in on the rush,” moving too far out of the net as the opposition attacked. The exact phrase was, “Trust your patience.”

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Nov. 30, 2019 — Comrie traded to Detroit for defenceman Vili Saarijarvi

Did he see this one coming?

“No clue, no clue,” Comrie said. “If anything, I thought I’d be waived again. Three goalies (at the NHL level) is hard on everyone.”

Were you getting upset at the situation?

“No,” he answered. “I looked at it as if they see a good player, and that meant a lot to me. Arizona liked me, Detroit liked me. Putting on a Red Wings jersey…that was unbelievable.”

“We were lucky that the trainer was at our home when Eric was traded,” Hull said. “We had just set up the Christmas tree, and had to take it down. We had everything packed in 30 minutes. When we went from Winnipeg to Arizona, we dropped off our winter clothes in Newport Beach and got our summer clothes. I had to go back and get them.”

Hull made the seven-hour drive to their off-season residence, and flew to Michigan the next day. They stayed at a Marriott. In Detroit, Comrie re-united with Adam Erne. The two played Bantam hockey together in California, with the LA Selects.

Under Red Wings goalie coach Jeff Salajko, Comrie worked on narrowing his stance, and being more active with his stick. “He told me, ‘Work as hard as you can, you’re going to play games here.’ I knew I was going to get into action,” Comrie said.

On Dec. 7, he came off the bench during a 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh, stopping all four shots he faced in relief of Jonathan Bernier. Three days later came his first start of the year, in the city he knew best — Winnipeg.

“I’m a pretty serious guy during games, I don’t joke around,” Comrie said. “But those guys — they are all great guys — were all over me during the game, trying to make me laugh. ‘Come on, you’ve got to let that one in,’ stuff like that.”

He made 25 saves, but the Jets won 5-1. Uh, did Comrie have money on the board?

“Yes, I had a lot of money on the board,” he laughs. “I really, really wanted to win. Unfortunately, we didn’t.”

He got one more start, making 28 saves in a 4-2 loss to Los Angeles.

Hull enjoyed Detroit. “That arena….I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“The Biegas (Alex and Diana) were amazing. They offered to make dinner for us and do laundry at their place. Jordan Filppula was constantly checking in on how we were doing going through this crazy time.”

Dec. 18, 2019 — Red Wings place Comrie on waivers

“For a little bit of time, this was the tough one,” Comrie said. “It wasn’t unexpected. I knew Jimmy Howard was getting healthy and would be back, and the Christmas freeze meant they’d have to do something. But it was the first move where someone didn’t want me.”

“The thing you have to remember is that we’re very privileged to be here. You just have to let things take care of themselves, accept where you end up. I can only control my controllables. I am doing something that I’m very lucky to do.”

Comrie also has the benefit of a family that understands the sport’s ups and downs. Half-brothers Mike and Paul both played in the NHL. He played with younger brother Ty on the WHL Tri-City Americans.

“I told him to keep working hard,” Mike Comrie said via text. “Nobody works harder than him. No specific advice will prepare you for this.”

Dec. 19, 2019 — Jets claim Comrie on waivers

“I thought they would,” Comrie says. “We had a good relationship, and I’m thankful they did.”

Do you have to find a new place?

“Actually, no. I rent from Jack Rodewald [a Winnipeg native in the Florida Panthers organization] and chose not to give it up until I knew I’d be staying somewhere else. I felt like I could be back.”

Because you, the reader, demand all loose ends be tied up, I asked Hull if she requested the return of Eric’s guitar. She laughed and said no.

They went to California during Christmas for what she called “a mental health break. We just needed to regroup.”

There was one more hurdle to leap.

Chris Johnston: Comrie claimed by the Jets, trade market and the Golden Knights
December 19 2019

Dec. 28, 2019 — Jets place Comrie on waivers

This was procedural, to get him back to the AHL — the move that started all this.

“We would joke that days like these were called ‘Limbo Days,’” Hull said. “When you’re on waivers, you can’t practice. He called me, said, ‘Can you pick me up?’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, it’s happening again.’”

“Seth Griffith was great during all of this,” Comrie said of his Manitoba teammate. “He’s a good friend, I drove him to the rink every day last year. He had a season like this, and knows what it’s like.” (That was 2016-17, when Griffith was signed by Boston, claimed on waivers by Toronto, then Florida, then Toronto again.)

Comrie cleared the next day and awaits his first start for the Moose.

“As I’ve said a couple of times in this interview, it was a great experience. People wanted me, I’m back where I’m happy and I’m doing what I love to do.”

“We learned that — for both of us — you have to keep a positive attitude,” Hull adds. “You have to make the best of the situation. One of the things we talk about is all of the new experiences we enjoyed — we had so much good food, for example.”

“No matter what happened, it didn’t change that Eric is a professional athlete. Not many people can say that.”

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1. Six players have received “exceptional status” in the Canadian Hockey League, allowing them early entry through the draft. Five were in the OHL (John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid, Sean Day and current rookie sensation Shane Wright), one in the QMJHL (Joe Veleno). The Western Hockey League has never gone this route. According to several sources, there are three applicants for the 2020-21 season. All of them are from out west.

There’s Connor Bedard from North Vancouver, BC; and two from Dundurn, SK — Riley Heidt and Brayden Yager. Heidt and Yager are both at a point per game for the Saskatoon Contacts in the Saskatchewan Midget Triple-A League, the youngest players on their team. (Heidt’s uncle is Ryan Keller, a 10-year pro who played six games for the 2009-10 Ottawa Senators. He’s currently an assistant coach for the WHL Saskatoon Blades.) Bedard, also the youngest on his team, has 52 points in 27 games for West Vancouver Academy in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League. I’m no expert on how this will go, but good luck to all three. And remember: if you don’t get the status, it’s not the end of the world.

2. We could have news on Justin Williams’ plans by the end of the weekend.

3. Reminder that as of New Year’s Day Wednesday, players on one-year contracts are allowed to sign extensions. Two of the most interesting will be Ottawa’s Anthony Duclair (restricted) and Chicago’s Robin Lehner (unrestricted). I don’t get the sense there’s much yet on Duclair, who will have a heck of an arbitration case in the first All-Star season of his career. There’s time for both the organization and player to breathe, to see where this takes them.

4. As for Lehner, one of the stories to watch in early 2020 is the goalie market. There are good UFAs-to-be, whether you are looking for a starter or a backup. Where do the Blackhawks go with Corey Crawford and Lehner? The more important question might be where the Blackhawks go, period. They’ve got decisions to make on their franchise direction if there isn’t a game 83. Lehner clearly likes it there, and fit is important for him.

Vancouver will, at some point, make a serious run at Jacob Markstrom, who has been outstanding. But they’ve got cap issues to sort out. We’ll get to Braden Holtby in a minute. There are some other strong 1A/backup options like Thomas Greiss (Islanders), Jaroslav Halak (Boston), Anton Khudobin (Dallas), Pavel Francouz (Colorado) and Brossoit. It’s not going to be easy for the Stars to keep Khudobin at his current $2.5 million. And he’s valuable enough to get more.

5. On Holtby: we reported last week that he and the Capitals won’t negotiate during the season. (I got a text: “That happened in September…way to catch up, Insider.”) There are a couple of things to recognize. First, he’s not the type to be bothered by this. Second, neither are the Capitals, who had close shaves with both John Carlson and TJ Oshie before getting them extended. Third, a few people warned me about predicting what Holtby will do. He thinks differently, and I mean that as a compliment. He could surprise us.

6. They aren’t UFAs, but a few teams are curious about Pittsburgh’s direction. Casey DeSmith is signed for two more seasons. Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray are both restricted, and who do the Penguins commit to? Anyone could have had Jarry for a second-round pick last summer, now he’s one of the great stories of this season. As for Murray, there were some extension talks last summer, but things have ground to a halt. There are a lot of, “If you have time, use it” scenarios here. The decisions will have ripple effects.

7. Let’s go through a few other situations. Calgary’s got extra bodies, and some of the players shuffling in-and-out of the lineup are unhappy. GM Brad Treliving will be careful, but it is always a delicate balance when you’ve got unhappy players on a team with ambition. There is interest in Mark Jankowski, who needs a fresh start. There is interest in Sam Bennett, who was scratched on Sunday. I’m not convinced the Flames wish to do that, unless the return is impactful. But it’s something to keep an eye on.

8. In Ottawa, we may have been looking at it the wrong way. All of the focus has been on Jean-Gabriel Pageau, having a dynamite year when a new contract is due. But, after extending both Thomas Chabot and Colin White, the Senators’ biggest priority is Brady Tkachuk. What they think that number will be affects all other decisions. They will also make sure not to “block” prospects from AHL Belleville they think are ready. And, I would not be surprised if Connor Brown, tied for third in scoring, is high on the priority list, too.

9. Brandon Saad is out right now, but there will be interest when he returns. He’s at $6 million cap hit for next season, $6.5 million in cash. I believe Edmonton looked into it, but that won’t fit.

10. There are a lot of Marian Hossa/Brent Seabrook comparisons out there, but the two situations feel very different. It wasn’t easy to confirm that Hossa wouldn’t play again, but, when we finally received the information we needed, there wasn’t any denial that we were accurate in what we were going to report. That’s not the case with Seabrook. Hossa was ready, it was time. Seabrook himself hasn’t spoken, but there’s serious doubt he’s ready to walk away from the sport. Yes, he’s frustrated and has been unafraid to vent. Yes, I do think there will be conversations about his future and willingness to move. But give it up? I’ll believe it when I see it. He is one tough dude with a lot of pride in himself.

11. The Oilers are wary of trading picks. There’s no guarantee all work out, but, the more lottery tickets you have, the better. They didn’t have a second- or third-rounder in 2015; their 2016 first-rounder is estranged from the organization; didn’t have a second-rounder in 2017; nothing in round three-to-five in 2018; and six picks last year. That’s one of the reasons they passed on Taylor Hall — not wanting to give up two more high selections. You can see the frustration on Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid as the rest of the Pacific catches the Oilers. St. Louis players in particular noticed in-game how upset Draisaitl was by missed chances in a 2-1 loss to the Blues on Dec. 17. They thought it really affected him.

12. I went to Game 7 of the Calder Cup Final in 2018 (Toronto beat Texas that night for the championship in a packed, crazed rink — was a fun night). During one of the intermissions, I ran into the great Rich Clune, who was not dressed for the game. He pointed to the person standing next to him and asked, “Have you ever met Jeremy Bracco?” I hadn’t. He said, “You’re going to see plenty of him.” Bracco only dressed for four games in that run, but finished second in the AHL in scoring last season and is fifth in assists this year.

His path to the Maple Leafs is blocked by some elite, elite skill and he wants to see if there’s a better opportunity somewhere else. Toronto is willing to accommodate, but have not been shy in their asks, apparently. I’m curious to see what the market is. I’m also curious to see if this could be part of a bigger deal. Ben Harpur and Dmytro Timashov have also asked Toronto to see what’s out there for them.

13. After a good run of health, the Maple Leafs’ voodoo doll is getting pricked. I forgot to include Ilya Mikheyev on the Jan. 1 eligible-to-sign-list mentioned above, but he was having an excellent season before it was curtailed by a skate cut last Friday. (By the way, the Devils deserve a lot of credit for how prepared they were to deal with the situation, including having a surgeon ready to meet the ambulance.) Head coach Sheldon Keefe liked him alongside John Tavares.

There are a number of Marlies who may get a shot at his forward spot, including three newer options: 23-year-old Egor Korshkov, a second-round pick in 2016 who was recently injured; 26-year-old Finn Kalle Kossila, limited to four games by injury — but someone the organization likes; and 24-year-old Mason Marchment, also limited so far by injury. Marchment, who is Bryan’s son, is a really nice story. Did not play his first OHL game until he was 19, but has pushed himself into prospect status. He’s more of a bruiser, and the type of player the Maple Leafs could use.

14. Lots and lots of interest in Chris Kreider, no decision yet from the Rangers. “Lots of time,” one source said. Again, look at their history. Marc Staal’s last contract was signed on Jan. 18, 2015. In 2014, they signed Dan Girardi on Feb. 28. They took Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello down to the wire last year. There’s a lot of interest — believed to include contenders who might be happy to wait for cap reasons (Boston, St. Louis) and others who aren’t worried about that (Colorado). There’s plenty of speculation about Montreal, as the Canadiens could use some beef, but Kreider’s partial no-trade affects that.

15. Lias Andersson has gone back to Sweden. It remains to be seen if the Rangers loan him to a local team, as Edmonton’s done with Jesse Puljujarvi. (Can’t hurt to have him playing.) The Oilers have taken a tough stance with their winger, as has Dallas with Julius Honka. Like Andersson, they are young former first-rounders, and, in trade talks, are being treated as such. New York is following that path.

16. I think New Jersey is considering some of Buffalo’s available defenders.

17. From what I understand on Ilya Kovalchuk, he’s hoping for some contenders to show more interest.

18. Did the Penguins steal an old lady’s purse or something? They continued searching for a new home for Alex Galchenyuk, but just lost Jake Guentzel for four-to-six months. Does that give Galchenyuk new life?

19. Don’t look now, but if Vancouver beats Chicago on Thursday, the Golden Knights need four points in their next two games to prevent Travis Green from being the Pacific Division’s All-Star coach. Wasn’t he getting fired last week?

20. Lots and lots of reaction to John Tortorella’s outburst following Sunday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Chicago. Honestly, the first thing I thought of was that he’s as angry about the defeat and the injury to surging Joonas Korpisalo as much as anything else. That was a brutal outcome for the Blue Jackets, trying to fight their way into the wild-card race. Korpisalo is second in the NHL in starts, with 31, but if you look at his workload, it’s really increased in the past few weeks (he had 10 appearances in 20 days from Dec. 3-23). They had to be worried about pushing him too far.

I watched the disputed clock situation on both broadcast feeds. You couldn’t tell on Chicago’s, but the seconds ticked after the whistle on Columbus’s. (There is a cable connected to both broadcast trucks that links the clock to the score “bug” — TV jargon for the on-screen graphic.) Apparently, when the Blue Jackets called timeout after the too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty, two assistant coaches asked for a referee to check with the clock operator. Both did, and were told it was correct, which was relayed to the Columbus bench. As furious as the NHL was at Tortorella’s outburst — and a suspension was considered — there were coaches/executives who privately indicated they supported him. He walked it back on Monday.

If there was a phone conversation between Tortorella and Colin Campbell, the NHL should make it available on a 1-900 number for $3.99/minute. The salary cap would go up $10 million.

21. With Korpisalo injured, the NHL needs a Metropolitan All-Star replacement. I’d ask Henrik Lundqvist, considering he always seems to have a great time. He clearly likes it. Or, why not go Jarry? Someone said to me that you can’t be sure he’s Pittsburgh’s true number one, but who cares? He’s having a terrific year, and he’d probably be thrilled to go. Have to think Markstrom gets Darcy Kuemper’s spot in the Pacific.

22. I can see Keith Tkachuk being asked if he wants to participate in a skills event with son Matthew. (Passer for the accuracy competition?) The guys on FAN 960 in Calgary are already campaigning for Drew Doughty to be added to the Pacific Division team, so he and Tkachuk can be teammates. Apropos of nothing, the first All-Star Game I worked for Hockey Night in Canada was Minnesota in 2004. I tagged along to the dressing-room setup day and was asked who should sit next to who. I tried to put people next to each other who had fierce rivalries. I was never invited back for this process.


23. Two weeks into the season, I don’t know how many people expected Minnesota to be in the race, yet here they are as the calendar flips. “I know people won’t believe it, but I honestly thought the turning point was the losses to Dallas and St. Louis,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said. That was at the end of October/beginning of November. The Wild blew a 3-0 lead to the Stars, then lost a pair of one-goal games to the defending champions. “That Dallas game, we basically put four of those goals in our own net. The room was dead quiet. Don’t think we weren’t worried about a back-to-back with St. Louis. But I thought we played the Blues really hard, and guys continued to play the same way, even with all the injuries.” One thing to watch: the Wild have played just 16 home games, fewest in the NHL.

24. Boudreau had a ton of praise up and down the lineup, from those you would expect to those you wouldn’t. From Marcus Foligno (“battles every night”) to Alex Stalock (“Boy is he competitive. He hangs in there and gives us a chance”) to Carson Soucy (“To exceed expectations, you need someone to surprise you. He’s our guy”). But he saved his most lavish praise for the captain, Mikko Koivu, recently out with a lower-body injury. “Putting him with Kevin (Fiala) and Zach (Parise), he brought them together. There was one game where Mikko said something to Kevin on the bench, Kevin didn’t answer…and let’s say he made sure Kevin got the message. He just wills everyone to be better.” Koivu’s unrestricted after this year. “He’s so competitive. This is my opinion…but his brother (Saku) played until he was 39. I think Mikko wants to play until he’s 39, too.” Mikko will be 37 in March.

25. When Thomas Chabot played 37:50 for the Senators Dec. 17 in Tampa Bay, we thought that was 15 seconds shy of Dennis Wideman’s ice-time-era record. That is not the case. Credit to CBC ace stat-person Karl Creighton, who provided proof that Adrian Aucoin is somehow among those being shafted. Aucoin actually holds the top three (and five of the top six) ice-times since the adoption of it as an official statistic in 1997-98. He and Pavel Bure have the only 40-minute regular-season games, with Aucoin’s high of a completely bananas 40:51 for the Islanders against Washington on Oct. 12, 2002. Chabot’s night ranks 11th.

Adrian Aucoin 40:51
Adrian Aucoin 40:32
Adrian Aucoin 40:13
Pavel Bure 40:12
Adrian Aucoin 38:21
Adrian Aucoin 38:19
Kenny Jonsson 38:09
Sandis Ozolinsh 38:06
Adrian Aucoin 38:05
Dennis Wideman 38:05
Thomas Chabot 37:50
Andrej Meszaros 37:47

26. Chabot played 28:25 and 28:10 the last two games after four in a row above 30. He says he’s very fortunate, blessed with excellent endurance. At the 2015 NHL draft combine, his results in the VO2 testing illustrated that gift. He scored in the top 15. (Among those ahead of him were current NHLers Brock Boeser, Mathieu Joseph, Travis Konecny and Jacob Larsson.) “Thomas did have a good aerobic capacity, which indicated that he had a pretty good size gas tank,” NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr wrote in an email. “This score is indicative of the player’s capacity for endurance but also for his recovery system; meaning he can recover quickly from a hard shift to be ready to go hard again for next shift, next period, back to back games, etc.”

With the training he’s done since, that’s only gotten better. Chabot said the only time he’s been really exhausted was after playing more than 40 minutes in the 2017 World Junior Gold Medal game, a shootout loss to the United States. “But that was about everything….the pressure of that game and the tournament, not only about how much I played.”

27. Tomas Tatar laughed when asked if he ever tells Selke candidate Phillip Danault to “go back and play defence, so I don’t have to?” His reply: “No, but I feel better when he’s back there instead of me.” Tatar is pretty insightful. He was benched after picking up two minor penalties Nov. 7 against Philadelphia. That gave him 10 on the year, tied at the time with Alexander Radulov for most among forwards. In the seven weeks since, he’s got four.

“When I started with Detroit, I watched how Pavel Datsyuk used his stick to check. But you have to be careful, because you can get penalties for it.” If he gets sloppy, he gets called. He also had a good explanation for why it’s working for him in Montreal — he’s the Canadiens’ leading scorer — after it wasn’t a fit in Vegas. He said that was a special group and it was difficult to fit in with their chemistry as a trade-deadline acquisition. Starting fresh in Quebec was much easier for him.

28. All the best to Alexis Lafreniere, injured against Russia in the world juniors. You know players. They want to play. But it sounds like there are people around him who recognize there’s a bigger picture that must be considered. As the event began, there were people saying they thought some teams might prefer Quinton Byfield for the number one overall pick because he’s a centre. However, Lafreniere’s performance against the United States was an eye-opener. It’s a tough call, and that’s good for fans and the sport.

29. This is the reporting you need: how did three Maple Leafs end up skating with Justin Bieber in Stratford, Ont., on Boxing Day? Bieber, you’ll remember, played in the celebrity game at the 2017 All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. He met Auston Matthews there, who was a rookie that season. But their relationship really took off in September, when Matthews posted an Instagram photo of his return to Toronto with Frederik Andersen.

View this post on Instagram

Back to school

A post shared by Auston Matthews (@austonmatthews) on

Matthews was wearing a “Drew House” hoodie. That’s Bieber’s clothing line — and he replied with a fire emoji to the photo. He attended Toronto’s 4-1 win over San Jose on Oct. 25, where Matthews scored. The Leaf wore that same hoodie courtside at a Raptors game in December. By that time, they were messaging a bit more, and that led to the post-Christmas skate. Look out Scott Tweedie, I’m coming for an ENews! job.

30. When Detroit came through Toronto a couple weeks ago, I asked coach Jeff Blashill who was doing a good job of handling the challenge of grinding through a hard year. He mentioned Dylan Larkin. “He faces the media every day,” Blashill said, “and even if he’s upset after a game, he makes sure to show up positive the next day.” (Blashill’s really hung in there, too. Not easy.) At Thanksgiving, Karson Otto, a talented 2008-born defenceman for Detroit Little Caesars, suffered a viral attack on his spinal cord. He spent three weeks in hospital, and, happily, has a chance at a full recovery.

Larkin sent an autographed jersey. That’s a great smile on Karson’s face. All the best, young man.

31. I turned “Thought 31” over to Christine Simpson. She kept in close contact with Alex Luey, who was taken from us way too soon (age 15) on Dec. 22 after a lengthy fight against cancer. The funeral was last Saturday, and here are Christine’s thoughts from that day:

“We celebrated Alex’s life and it was just as he wanted it. He had laid out some strict rules. Everyone was to wear a jersey from their favourite team and we all obliged. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more colourful funeral in my life. There were to be no church finger-sandwiches. And there was to be laughter. Which there was, but through a lot of tears. Alex touched so many lives in his 15 years and we all know Alexander Ovechkin was one of them.

Their friendship began through a Hometown Hockey segment but it continued through texts and phone calls before surgeries, on birthdays, and with invitations to games. It was genuine. Ovi sent me a message to read to everyone there. He talked about the impact Alex had made on him and the team. And how proud his parents should be (and I know they are). I’m so glad we were able to introduce (Alex Luey) to his hero because I know it brought him so much joy in the final years of his life. But what I didn’t realize was just how much joy Alex would bring to our lives too. I’m so grateful for having known him and his impact will stay with me forever.”

Christine, ever the professional, wore a Team Canada jersey. Alison Langley of The St. Catharines Standard reported that the funeral’s closing song was John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” — which his parents used to soothe Alex as a baby. “Close your eyes, have no fear. The monster’s gone. He’s on the run and your daddy’s here.”

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