Quick Shifts: Lafreniere talks ‘fun’ chance of joining Senators

Anze Kopitar, Logan Couture, Ryan Getzlaf and Marc-Andre Fleury go over what they have been doing during the NHL’s pause in play.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Free Joe Exotic.

1. If the NHL’s draft lottery odds remain as frozen as the regular-season standings, Alexis Lafreniere has a 25 per cent chance of joining the Ottawa Senators, a team situated just two hours west of his hometown.

“It would be fun. It would be special for sure,” Lafreniere said on a conference call Wednesday. “It’s a great place to play, and they have a lot of good players, so it would be an honour for sure.”

As things stand, the 30th-place Sens have a 13.5 per cent shot at winning the right to select the No. 1–ranked Lafreniere with their own lottery combination and an 11.5 per cent chance to swipe it via 29th-place San Jose’s pick.

The last-place Red Wings should have the second-best odds (18.5 per cent) of drafting Lafreniere, and the 18-year-old describes Detroit prospect Joe Veleno, 20, as a good friend. The two endured the disappointment of the 2019 world juniors and the triumph of 2020’s tournament together.

“For sure, it would be really fun to play with him,” Lafreniere said. “I know it’s a great organization.”

Last summer, the teenager trained alongside NHLers Antoine Roussel, Cedric Paquette and Sammy Blais, and credits that experience for preparing him for a draft year in which he separated himself from presumptive No. 2 Quinton Byfield and the pack.

“You never know who’s gonna go one, but I tried my best to play as well as I could,” said Lafreniere, between quarantine workouts. “When it comes back, I’m going to be ready.”

2. The standing ovation, the heart-pounding walk float from the stands to dais, the crisp new cap on the head and NHL sweater pulled over your shoulders as cameras zoom in and bulbs flash.

For Lafreniere, the kid understands his moment — now deferred until TBA at a place TBD — will “be a little bit different, but it’s still an honour to get drafted by an NHL team.”

Like so many of us, the presumptive No. 1 pick has narrowed his focus to what he can control: training exercises using equipment his strength coach brought to his family home in Saint-Eustache, Que., dinner and movie nights with the family he didn’t see much of during his billeted winter in Rimouski.

“Little things like this, it’s always fun,” Lafreniere said.

Tickets and hotel rooms had been secured for Lafreniere and his family and friends to descend upon Montreal and celebrate. Sadly, those are just best-laid plans.

Best-case scenario (read: the longshot scenario) would be a full draft at the Bell Centre at a later date this summer. If not, the NHL will look to bring the gala to Montreal in June of 2021 or 2022, according to multiple reports.

Another option under consideration is hosting a small-scale get-together in Montreal, an unintended throwback to the event’s roots. From 1969 through 1979, the entry draft was held at either the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, the Mount Royal Hotel, or at the NHL’s Montreal office. It was until it hit the Forum in 1980 that the draft went showtime.

The third and most likely option: a virtual draft that would have everyone involved, from players to executives to fans, glued to their screens.

3. Quietly lurking beyond this unexpected NHL work stoppage is the possibility of a much more avoidable one in 2023, when the current collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners expires.

Hey, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association seem to be playing nice with their respective players’ associations these days.

Another interrupted hockey season is “the last thing anyone wants,” Donald Fehr said Friday on Sportsnet 650.

The Players’ Association chief is “reasonably optimistic” that an agreement will be reached without much difficulty. Although some familiar touchy issues remain unsolved — the international calendar and escrow pop to mind — Fehr said both sides agreed to tamp down the rhetoric.

We say the virus should be a reminder that it’s best to keep business rolling smoothly. Fans won’t have patience for a labour dispute coming out of this pause.

“It’s impossible to say at this point what the effects of this situation will have,” Fehr said.

“Hopefully people will look at the current situation and say, ‘All right. Maybe we need to find a way to get past our differences a little more quickly and a little more amicably and see where that takes us.’”

4. Anyone else feel a little icky about making a prop bet about when the NHL will return to action? It’s like betting on North America’s health. And yet, you actually can. Here are the lines.

Next NHL game to be played June 1 or sooner
Yes +300 (3/1)
No -500 (1/5)

Next NHL game to be played July 1 or sooner
Yes +160 (8/5)
No -225 (4/9)

Next NHL game to be played Aug. 1 or sooner
Yes -180 (5/9)
No +140 (7/5)

5. Despite starting its playoffs, the KHL cancelled its season outright this week and will not award the Gagarin Cup for the first time since the trophy was introduced.

Some familiar names to NHL fans had jumped off to excellent post-seasons. Former Oilers and Sabres forward Linus Omark, now playing for Salavat Yulaev, was leading the whole league with 12 points in six playoff games. And Avangard’s Cody Franson topped all defencemen with five points in six games.

Goaltender Ilya Sorokin, 24, had put on a near-perfect performance for CSKA Moscow, winning all four playoff games, two in shutouts, while posting a sparkling .966 save percentage and 0.73 goals-against average.

Sorokin — a New York Islanders prospect — was fantastic all season (26-10-3, 1.50 GAA, .935 save percentage) and would technically be eligible to join the Isles should he sign with the NHL team after May 1. Considering how seamless the transition that other New York team had with its Russian goalie prospect, Igor Shesterkin, the future looks bright for Sorokin.

“We have every indication that he will be here for next season,” GM Lou Lamoriello said in a recent Q&A with the club website.

Left unsaid is that the Isles’ Thomas Greiss, an impending UFA, is likely to go unsigned in that case. Greiss, 34, is enjoying his sixth consecutive season with a winning record and has a career .915 save percentage.

Granted he’s had the luxury of playing behind one of hockey’s stingiest defensive schemes, but the veteran could make an excellent upgrade to the backup goalie position for a number of teams in 2020-21. Few are more comfortable showing up in scattered starts.

6. Devils interim GM Tom Fitzgerald gave an informative interview to Hockey Central Thursday.

Heading up a draft-lottery-positioned team, Fitzgerald said his focus while quarantined is getting as much video as possible of the 2020 class into the hands of his amateur scouts, who no longer have a Memorial Cup to attend.

New Jersey not only has its own (presumably top-10) first-round choice but holds conditional first-rounders from Arizona and Vancouver as well.

“Time is on our hands,” said Fitzgerald, looking to use the postponed draft to his advantage. “I know the New Jersey Devils will be ultra-prepared for whenever we pick.”

Tom Fitzgerald using NHL's pause to get "ultra-prepared" for resumption
March 26 2020

7. Taylor Hall doesn’t always tweet, but when he does, he usually brings that fire.

8. A follow-up on Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson, who led the Ontario Hockey League with 55 goals and would’ve added to that total had the season not been chopped off early.

The OHL released its annual coaches poll Thursday.

In the East, Robertson’s name appeared in six different categories. He was voted the conference’s Best Shot and the Most Dangerous in Goal Area. He also finished second in Hardest Worker, Best Stickhandler, and Shootout Shooter, and was rated to have the third-hardest shot.

Another coaches’ favourite is 2020 draft prospect Marco Rossi of the Ottawa 67’s. The 18-year-old, too, appeared in six categories. He was voted the East’s Smartest Player, Best Playmaker and Best Shootout Shooter.

Rossi ranks fifth on Sportsnet guru Sam Cosentino’s draft prospect list. He only put up 120 points in 56 games this season.

9. Happy that the NHL is broadcasting a four-day series of video conference interviews with some of the league’s captains and superstars.

A personal highlight was this exchange, prompted by the question, “What do you miss least about facing one another?”

Claude Giroux: “Jordan and Sid, they cheat so much in faceoffs. I don’t enjoy that.”

Sidney Crosby: “That’s funny. I was gonna say the same thing about you.”

Giroux: “I knew you were gonna say that. That’s why I said it [first].”

Jordan Staal: “For G, if he stopped talking at the faceoff circle, he’d probably win a lot more. And Sid, your infinite amount of cutbacks in the corner is just too much. Makes me dizzy sometimes.”

Give us a Penguins-Flyers series, pretty please. Even in August.

In response to the same question, Alex Ovechkin dropped this beauty: “I don’t like to play against P.K. [Subban] because he always do some slashes. Yeah, he always try to talk to refs, y’know. I don’t like it. I always tell him, ‘Stop slashing me in the hands,’ because it drives me crazy.”

10. During Thursday and Friday’s Zoom sessions, some Metropolitan and Pacific divisional stars revealed their binge-watching fixations these days. Some recommendations.

Sidney Crosby: Formula 1: Drive to Survive
Jordan Staal: Formula 1: Drive to Survive
Claude Giroux: The Stranger, The Valhalla Murders
Marc Staal: Formula 1: Drive to Survive, Westworld
Alex Ovechkin: Deal or No Deal
Anders Lee: The Morning Show
Nick Foligno: Entourage
Oliver Ekman-Larsson: Unnamed Swedish programming
Logan Couture: Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Wire, Six Feet Under
Marc-Andre Fleury: Making a Murderer
P.K. Subban: Tiger King
Connor McDavid: Tiger King
Mark Giordano: Tiger King (“You’ll like it. Trust me, buddy. It’s the weirdest stuff you’ve seen in a long time.”)

I giddily co-sign Tiger King and offer this hidden docu-gem: Long Shot, the best “baseball” movie of recent memory. It actually came out in 2017 but flew under my radar and is streaming on Netflix.

11. It’s always fun hopping on the Tape II Tape podcast with pals Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen (listen here). This week we touched on a few recent articles. Readers gravitated to my (probably premature and purely hypothetical) preview of potential compliance buyout candidates.

A name some thought should be on the list but wasn’t: P.K. Subban.

No doubt, Subban’s past two seasons have been disappointing, to put it mildly. He’s stuck on a couple career worsts in Jersey—18 points and a minus-21 rating.

Here’s why I didn’t add him. For one, the Devils are not anywhere near the cap ceiling. They have more cap space than any of the other 30 clubs and, even with Subban on the books, will need to spend just to reach the cap floor in 2020-21.

Furthermore, Subban is scheduled to cash a $6-million bonus on July 1. After that, he’ll “only” be due $10 million total in actual dollars over the course of his final two seasons.

12. Love this initiative by the Ottawa Senators and would like to see more players let fans into what’s pumping through their earbuds.

Colin White compiled a 31-song Spotify playlist of his favourite jams. We’re backing A-Trak’s remix of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll,” Arizona Zervas’s “Roxanne” remix, all the Roddy Ricch, plus Post Malone and DaBaby’s “Enemies.”

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