A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. I’m exploring the possibility of securing my own private island to pen next week’s column.
1. Far and away one of my most memorable writing assignments was covering the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery inside the Hockey Night in Canada studios. The tension inside Toronto’s CBC headquarters was milkshake thick as prospects, executives and TV producers stiffly mixed and mingled.
And grand prize Connor McDavid — the focus of a circus in which he wielded no power — wore all that anxiety with a terrible poker face.
On Thursday, the very day the (since postponed) 2020 lottery was scheduled to take place, McDavid candidly reflected on that fateful night five years ago.
The superstar was memorably tight-lipped in those very public minutes after the Edmonton Oilers won him, so I appreciated him letting us into his thoughts on how he would’ve handled the process differently.
“If I were to do it over again, I would definitely not have gone to the studio. It was something we were hesitant on originally, and it turned out to be for good reason,” McDavid said on a Zoom call.
“It was going to be an emotional time no matter what, whatever team was picked. And obviously Edmonton was one of the possibilities, and we were surprised.
“People thought I was upset and made a big deal about that, which wasn’t the case at all. We were just more in disbelief than anything.”
Rogers had recently purchased the NHL broadcast rights and, understandably, wanted to amplify such a franchise-altering lottery into a must-see TV event. So, they invited McDavid — and a handful of other highly touted prospects — to witness the big reveal in-person.
“My mom, dad and brother, we all went down to the studio. We had dinner beforehand. It was a long day. I mean, there’s so many different possibilities. It’s kind of the only time you can really just picture yourself on 16 different teams,” McDavid recalled.
“It was definitely a different day. I think we ran the lottery test mock thing — it just has all the odds and spits out a team — I think we ran that thing probably 100 times that day. So, you obviously never know what’s going to happen.”
McDavid’s stunned reaction to the logo on Bill Daly’s golden placard spawned a zillion interpretations. And the following April, presumptive top picks Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine did not come into the studio for the event but instead conducted live interviews remotely.
“So, if I were to do it over again, I definitely wouldn’t have gone into the studio,” McDavid said. “But it was definitely a wild day for sure.”
2. McDavid and his superhuman trainer Gary Roberts dropped a simple 15-minute workout that anyone can do to stay in shape during quarantine. The routine was actually the brainchild of McDavid agent, Jeff Jackson, who was trying to balance out his kids’ video-game sessions.
“It’s gone over well,” McDavid says. “Hopefully kids and other people are doing it at home and trying to find a way to stay active during this time.”
Here’s our first 15 minute workout, be sure to tag us if you give them a try!
-10 x body weight squats
-10 x push ups
-30 second split squat hold on each leg
-Repeat this set 4 times#stayhome #stayfit pic.twitter.com/8ejOkH5CN9
— Connor McDavid (@cmcdavid97) April 6, 2020
3. The NHL is exploring all options for when, where and how to resume the season. Elliotte Friedman reported North Dakota and John Shannon added Manchester, New Hampshire, as neutral-site locales that are being investigated as potential playoff hosts if 2019-20 can be saved.
“It seems like a long shot, but I think having any option is a good option at this point, with all the uncertainty going around,” says Norris Trophy frontrunner John Carlson, who lived the Olympic Village–style experience in 2014.
“It would be cool. We’ve all been away from each other a while now, and it’d be nice to have the abbreviated training camp and maybe play as many games as we need to. Something like that that would kickstart everyone back into gear.”
College hockey writer Brad Elliott Schlossman responded with an informative piece that outlines why UND’s Ralph Engelstad Arena would be well-suited to house a portion of the Stanley Cup tournament.
(A positive omen for Leafs fans: Toronto’s assistant coach, Dave Hakstol, went a perfect 11-0 in playoff series at The Ralph before graduating to the Flyers.)
“It’ll be a little funky,” said Carlson, considering a summertime return. “It’ll feel like a brand-new slate, I think. Doesn’t matter if you were playing good or bad. We’re all gonna kind of be at the same level in terms of what we’re dealing with now, what we’re dealing with in a training camp or whatever happens.
“It’ll definitely feel like a new season almost.”
4. Different coaches means different approaches to Joe Exotic and his untamed band of big-cat wranglers.
“The Tiger King stuff, which, when I first heard about it, I thought it was going to be a documentary on Tiger Woods, which I thought would have been terrific to catch,” Sheldon Keefe said this week.
Once the Maple Leafs coach learned the nature of things, he figured it wasn’t worth the $9.99-per-month investment.
“I’m not up to speed on those types of things, so I don’t know if I’m proud or embarrassed about the fact I don’t have a Netflix account,” Keefe said.
Capitals coach Todd Reirden, however, decided to take a rare break from studying game tape and “did take myself through the Tiger King” — not for entertainment but for work.
“I watched that one on my own. I did not have my wife and son on that one. I wanted to be prepared for discussion points for the players if they had seen it…. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Reirden has stayed in touch with the Caps via text and phone, mostly checking in on their health and training. Although he isn’t planning a “full-blown discussion” about Carole Baskin’s secrets with his team, he does make a point of trying to stay in the loop with what athletes are consuming and talking about every off-season.
“Because you know that they’re all have watched it,” Reirden said. “It’s all different ways to be able to relate and have conversations and connect with players. If you know that they’re doing something, then you want to make sure that you can share in that conversation.”
5. In case you forgot, this crisis has reminded us all: Hayley Wickenheiser is a national treasure.
Her selfless plea for donations of personal protective equipment certainly shoots her to the top of the list of hockey players going above and beyond at this time, and Wickenheiser’s medical studies have put her more in touch with the challenges of the pandemic than most of us.
But Wickenheiser’s insight and availability has also been invaluable to the Maple Leafs, who employ her as assistant director of player development. She and the club’s medical staff, led by Dr. Noah Forman, have been answering any questions the players might have about COVID-19 and its impact.
“The players who’ve been on the ice with her and know Hayley have a great relationship. So, she’s a great resource,” GM Kyle Dubas said. “I’m not qualified to give any sort of insights into these things, but Hayley and Dr. Forman do have those qualifications, as well as some of the infectious disease experts the league and MLSE have provided for us.”
With travel now frozen, not every Leafs player finds himself in the same living situation, with a full support system. (Hence, Frederik Andersen’s bunking with Auston Matthews.)
“You’ve got European players who are here by themselves and in a condo by themselves, so you worry about them a little bit. And you worry about whether everyone has the resources that they need, and then you worry about everybody abiding by the very, very important rules of physical distancing and staying inside and staying at home,” Dubas said.
“So there’s concern from our end that we’re doing our part to educate our staff and players on what we need to be.”
6. A couple notes from Russia.
Highly anticipated Vancouver Canucks prospect and rising SKA star Vasily Podkolzin has linked up with local volunteers to help ensure elderly residents of St. Petersburg are getting food delivered to their front door. Character move by the 18-year-old.
He hopped on Instagram to encourage others to do the same and to explain how easy it is to get involved.
View this post on Instagram
Привет! Многим сейчас особенно непросто. Сегодня я помогаю Людмиле Николаевне – отправляю ей набор продуктов, чтобы она не выходила в магазин, а оставалась дома. Помочь людям – в наших силах, и если у вас есть возможность – помогайте и вы! #МыВместе! Обратитесь в волонтерские центры своего города, узнайте, чем можно помочь. Номер в Петербурге 245-32-20. Будьте здоровы, берегите себя и тех, кто рядом! #стопкоронавирус #поможемвместе #помощьлюдям #делайдобро #hcska
With the Maple Leafs wooing KHL free agent Alexander Barabanov away from the mob of suitors, we checked in on another Russian star of interest.
Undersized goaltender Timur Bilyalov garnered interest on this side of the pond with his ridiculous 2019-20 stat line: 19-4-4, 1.45 goals-against average, .943 save percentage. The undrafted 25-year-old was showing even better in the playoffs (4-0, 0.71 goals-against average, .975 save percentage) before the KHL cancelled its season.
Bilyalov decided to re-up with AK Bars for one more season, his agent Alexander Chernykh writes, “since we do not understand when the season in NHL will begin and how the virus will affect KHL and NHL. But we do not exclude the possibility of pursuing a career in the NHL.”
7. Under the radar, Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust was having just a fabulous breakout season, scoring at a point-per-game pace (27-29-56 in 55 games) and garnering some Selke chatter.
Rust and his wife, Kelsey, not only have a couple of dogs of their own, but they’ve opened their quarantined home to Kelsey’s brother and one of Rust’s teammates, Zach Aston-Reese, who comes with a puppy.
“So, there’s a bit of a full house,” Rust said on a conference call.
Despite a career year interrupted, the 27-year-old winger sounds like a man thoroughly enjoying a break. The young men have kept busying playing street hockey, board games, and dealing cards.
“Back to being kids,” Rust smiled.
Rust considered the notion of returning to a work environment free of fans.
“Home-ice advantage might be taken out of it. The ability to ride the momentum of the crowd is so much more amplified in the playoffs,” Rust said. “When the crowd gets on your side, and you have a big shift or a big play and you’re riding that momentum… I think in an empty building, there wouldn’t be as much of that. You’d gotta try and create your own energy. So that would definitely be a factor.”
8. We’ve touched on this before. One of the rare good-news angles of the NHL’s pause is the benefit of healed bruises and rehabbed injuries.
“If we can ever get back to playing,” Flames captain Mark Giordano said, “this is going to be one of the best playoffs ever, because every team is going to have all their guys healthy and ready to go. You’re truly going to be playing the best version of every team.”
To Giordano’s point, Columbus’s Seth Jones (ankle surgery) feels good and has been one of the lucky few with access to ice. Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton (broken fibula) and James Reimer (lower body) have now both recovered and are ready to go.
And St. Louis’s Vladimir Tarasenko, who hasn’t laced ’em up in a game since Oct. 24, is all set to return from his shoulder surgery.
“It’s been pretty hard year not playing all year,” Tarasenko said during Wednesday’s Zoom reunion with the 2019 champs. “I was lucky enough to travel a couple road trips before this all started to feel like a part of the team again more. Just looking [forward to] joining the guys on the ice, practice normally and hopefully play some hockey. It’s been a long year, but hockey will start some day and we’re just waiting for the day.”
Because so many readers of this site care about the Maple Leafs, here’s another injury update: Coach Keefe confirms that both Ilya Mikheyev (wrist) and Jake Muzzin (foot) completed their rehabilitation and will be ready to contribute if and when the season resumes.
Not every injured player will be healed, however. Carolina’s Brett Pesce is still targeting a 2020-21 return, and Boston defenceman Kevan Miller has endured some setbacks in rehabilition.
Miller, 32, is an impending UFA trying to make a return in the fall. Bruins GM Don Sweeney said Friday he will make Miller a contract offer to keep him in the fold.
9. Watching Sergei Bobrovksy trying to keep his glove hand sharp on an Instagram video shot by his wife, Olga, feels… kinda sad.
As much as we envy the shorts-and-T-shirt weather, we find it difficult to believe that catching tennis balls pumped out of a ball machine is doing much to prepare Bob for denying, say, the Bruins’ power play.
“As a goalie, it’s a little bit harder to train alone,” Bobrovsky said on a conference call. Yet he’s still working out twice daily.
“You need somebody to shoot on you. You need to see the puck and read the players. At this moment, I don’t have that possibility. So, I can only build my body to be strong, to be fast, and to be quick.”
10. Auston Matthews on superfriend Justin Bieber’s chances in the much-talked-about 10-puck shootout against Jordan Binnington: “I think he gets at least one.”
11. One of my favourite
Leafs hockey players athletes to speak with has been Connor Carrick, who carefully considers reporters’ questions and delivers thoughtful, insightful responses. I never got the sense Carrick found these conversations a chore. He’s always been present, curious.
So, it was great to learn that Carrick — a 25-year-old beyond his years — is launching a guest-focused podcast this weekend in which he’ll reach out to high performers in the sports and business world.
The New Jersey Devils defenceman has actually enjoyed this pause and how it’s made him take stock of his own life and habits. A lover of the power of ideas and stories, another reason Carrick is starting the podcast is because he wants to learn to become a better listener.
“You can call anybody up, and they’ll pick up the phone and lend an hour of time,” Carrick explains. “You want to talk to cool, interesting people.”
Check out Episode 1 out here:
12. Happy Easter, everyone. Stay safe.