A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. We’ll give the Leafs stuff a break after this blog, promise.
1. When Frederik Andersen looked across at the team that beat his Toronto Maple Leafs this time, the fourth time, he saw defensive structure. He saw a comfort level playing hard in tight, low-scoring affairs. Yes, he saw Joonas Korpisalo doing cartwheels, but he also saw a consistency from the men defending Korpi’s crease.
“If we can get used to doing that in the season and not expect to blow teams out or only really show up when it’s, like, a really big game in the regular season… if we can have it more become an everyday thing and really get used to playing like that, I think that’s going to benefit us in the long run,” Andersen said.
“Once we realize that we can be really tough to play against, I think that’s when you’ll see us go deeper than we have in the past.”
Without question, Andersen surrendered a couple of softies (Cam Atkinson’s dagger in Game 1 and Liam Foudy’s insurance in Game 5) in the Leafs’ play-in exit. And his elimination-game stats are decidedly less than kind.
But Andersen is easily the best netminder the organization has employed since Ed Belfour, his cap hit for 2020-21 is a friendly $5 million, and we’re not so certain there’ll be a sure upgrade to be had here.
Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford’s championship days seem behind them. And if Jacob Markstrom re-signs in Vancouver like Jim Benning has assured, Robin Lehner (a Maple Leaf for a minute) may be the most coveted UFA goalie on the market. He won’t come cheap, nor should he.
Cam Talbot might present a compelling target, but his career lows plunge deeper than Andersen’s.
How much faith do you wish to put in a career tandem guy like Anton Khudobin or Thomas Greiss?
The Wild, Rangers and Penguins appear to be open for goalie trades, but how sure can you be what they have to offer will look as solid behind Toronto’s blueline?
Just think of how two-time Vezina champ Sergei Bobrovsky performed behind Florida this season.
Were the salary cap escalating, perhaps when Kyle Dubas touches base with Andersen’s agent, Claude Lemieux, in the near future, they’d talk extension heading into Andersen’s contract campaign.
I’d be shocked if that happens. I’d be equally shocked if Andersen is not starting opening night in Toronto. Ditto Zach Hyman, the other core piece with only one year left before a raise.
“Every one of these decisions takes on a more pronounced importance,” Dubas said during his season-ending press tour. “We have space, but we don’t have it in overabundance, and especially if things are going to be locked in for a couple years with the cap, we’ll probably not be able to act as quickly as we’d like to with some of these guys coming up.”
Andersen’s thoughts on his next deal?
“Whatever’s gonna happen, happens,” he said.
Control the controllable. Train hard. Come back stronger, better.
Our bet is the growth has to come around Andersen, that he’ll be given one more shot to finally backstop the Leafs to a playoff series win, and that Jack Campbell should be given a larger share of starts to (a) keep Andersen fresh and (b) discover if Campbell can become a legit 1B.
“He’s a helluva goalie as well,” Andersen said. “Hopefully we can get back and play with that group again.”
In the autopsy, Andersen noted that this was the most comfortable he’s felt in an elimination series, largely due to a mental shift.
“The more I can focus like a normal game and not having thoughts about how big of a game it is, that’s when I played the best in the playoffs,” Andersen explained.
“For players, it’s easy to get wrapped up in a playoff game that you got to hit a little harder and stuff like that. But as a goalie you can’t save the puck harder. You can’t over-push in your movements. Going forward, I think that’s the biggest lesson.”
2. Tyson Barrie is saying all the right things in the wake of a bad fit.
This is a guy who was rumoured to be asking for an AAV of $8 million on his next contract before he was traded out of Colorado as part of last summer’s Nazem Kadri deal. And like a number of Avalanche, Colorado cut ties before the core player’s big payday came due (see: Paul Stastny, Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene).
Now Barrie is an unrestricted free agent coming off his second-least-productive season in his past seven (five goals, 39 points) and facing a pandemic cap.
“I wish I would’ve left a little more of a stamp on the series,” said Barrie, pointless in five games and surrendering his spot back to Morgan Rielly on the top power-play unit when the season was on the line.
The mismatch with the Leafs, Barrie says, has given him more empathy for players adjusting to a trade and he will be rooting for his friends in Toronto moving forward.
Just as he’s cheering on the Avs now. A little bitter with the sweet.
“It would be tough to see them win it the year I leave, but I’m good buddies with all those guys and love them and wish them the best,” Barrie said. “I’m hoping those guys get it done.”
Barrie’s final appearance as a Leaf ended abruptly with this check by Boone Jenner in Game 5:
“I banged my head on the ice pretty hard. Had some headaches,” Barrie said. “They’re careful with the concussion protocol. Thankfully, I’m feeling pretty good right now.”
Barrie, 29, remains optimistic that his next landing spot is with a team that needs a power-play quarterback but one that can pair him with a stay-at-home type.
Is he looking for short term? Long term?
“At this point I have no idea what the future holds,” he says.
3. Interesting to hear Wendel Clark’s thoughts on these Maple Leafs’ inability to get over the hump.
For the rugged Leafs legend, his series MVP was Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno, whose blue-collar, check-finishing third line tore apart Toronto’s and is already giving Tampa fits.
“[Foligno] was in on everything,” Clark praised on Lead Off with Ziggy and Scotty Mac. “That’s the type of energy that’s leading by example — and it’s not anything to do with points.
“You wouldn’t say he’s their best forward. But when I’m looking at the game saying, ‘What controlled the game?’ — it would’ve been a lot in how he played.”
#CBJ | @NickFoligno pic.twitter.com/PiZmxyzOII
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) August 12, 2020
4. “You don’t replace Pasta.”
When my wife scoops quinoa on my plate and when Bruce Cassidy loses David Pastrnak from his lineup, turns out we both say the same thing.
Ironically, the vaunted Bruins power play kicked into gear in Game 2, scoring twice on Carolina without the Rocket Richard winner on the ice. David Krejci had himself a great 60 minutes.
But 5-on-5, Anders Bjork is no substitute is on Patrice Bergeron’s wing.
Consider Pastrnak day-to-day. He has been ruled “questionable” for Saturday’s noontime Game 3.
“It’s our turn to push back,” Cassidy says.
Crazy thing is, it would appear Pastrnak’s injury stems from this celebration of Game 1’s overtime goal:
Anyone else watch this and suffer a Bill Gramatica flashback?
5. Is there 20-year-old with more swagger than Andrei Svechnikov?
The kid is out here throwing down more than a point per game, attempting lacrosse goals during playoff overtimes, slamming Charlie McAvoy into the boards, and standing up while taking his medicine from Zdeno Chara.
“I think he actually enjoys those challenges,” coach Rod Brind’Amour says. “He can dish it out as well as he can take it. Pretty impressive for a young man.”
Svech’s explanation for his approach to these series is a simple one: “It’s hockey. We have to play hard.”
6. Fun fact: Jake Gardiner logged more minutes than any other player for the Toronto Maple Leafs over the past 10 seasons (11,764:46), including this one.
On Carolina, he was deemed the seventh defenceman and a healthy scratch for Thursday’s critical Game 2 playoff victory over Boston.
That, in a nutshell, illustrates the gap in blueline depth between a good defensive roster and a thin one.
7. This is no slight to Gerard Gallant, but I wonder if Peter DeBoer’s status as the new guy in Vegas made it easier for the coach to bench face-of-the-franchise Marc-Andre Fleury in favour of the rental on a shorter, cheaper contract.
Fleury and DeBoer aren’t tied with the history of misfits who journeyed all the way to the Cup Final.
Robin Lehner is undefeated as a member of the Golden Knights (3-0 in regular season; 4-0 in playoffs).
“It wasn’t what Flower didn’t do; it’s what Robin has done since he’s gotten here,” DeBoer says.
Game 2 pic.twitter.com/mGJ3XDekri
— Robin Lehner (@RobinLehner) August 13, 2020
8. NBC is the network being courted by the NHL for the next big U.S. broadcast rights deal and — let’s be honest — a major reason why we are watching playoff hockey in August, in time slots previously reserved for the cancelled Summer Games.
Maybe it’s on some please-like-my-sport, but I’m always curious to see which American cities are tuning in to these games.
NBC released its local TV ratings for the qualification round, and a couple results stick out.
Las Vegas — whose team was playing relatively meaningless round-robin games — tied Pittsburgh as the market with the highest rating (1.4), ahead of traditional hockey hotbeds like Philadelphia (1.1), St. Louis (0.85), Boston (0.65) and Chicago (0.64).
What a win getting into Vegas first has been for the league.
The other rating that shines is Buffalo at 1.1 (tied for third in the country). We needn’t remind you the Sabres, owners of the sport’s longest playoff drought, are not involved in the tournament. Man, this city deserves to be relevant in 2020-21.
Good news: They knocked the sweaters out the park.
FIRST LOOK: Royal Blue is BACK!
The Sabres new home and road uniforms pic.twitter.com/Jpfb32m7qf
— The Charging Buffalo (@TheChargingBUF) August 11, 2020
9. It took the pressure of an elimination series for the Bruins, the Presidents’ Tophy winners and defending Eastern Conference champs, to muster their first victory in the bubble.
“I’d have preferred we just started that way, personally. Made an extra exhibition or game or two, however, to get the players going. That’s just my feeling on it,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, no fan of permanently expanding the tournament.
“It just dilutes the regular season with the play-in round. If they shorten the regular season a little bit, then I could see that being an option.
“Maybe if I was the team on the bubble, I’d think differently.”
10. During the umpteenth intermission of Tuesday’s 151-shot, 150-minute Blue Jackets–Lightning epic, Jon Cooper dangled a carrot: a full off-day if his players could summon the next goal and poke a hole through Joonas Korpisalo.
Never underestimate the value of the vacation day.
ok goodnight everyone this twitter account is taking a maintenance day tomorrow
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) August 12, 2020
11. When you ask a hockey player about the officiating, you run an 80 per cent chance of getting a non-answer. But after slogging a record-breaking 65:06 in a gut-wrenching loss, I figured it was worth a try on Seth Jones.
The defenceman said he wanted an explanation as to why the whistle was swallowed on Victor Hedman’s reach-around/push of Cam Atkinson that busted up a partial breakaway in OT.
“I get a call [against me for] pretty much the same thing,” Jones replied. “The officiating to me was kind of suspect all night. So, we just want a clear explanation and never got one.”
Head coach John Tortorella — already on probation for putting the zebras on blast in January — walked to the post-game podium and gave a warning before the first question got asked.
“Don’t ask me about the non-call,” he said.
The Hedman play is borderline. Not quite a hook, nor a hold. But when you compare it to Jones’s penalty in the same contest, there’s certainly an argument for better consistency:
12. A small anecdote on the character of Claude Julien.
When Steven Stamkos of the rival Tampa Bay Lightning slammed into a TD Garden post in 2013 and was rushed off in an ambulance with a broken leg, Julien (then the Bruins’ coach) showed up at the hospital to pay the other team’s superstar a visit.
Julien surprised Stamkos with a gift — a Game Ready compression and cold therapy system to help the sniper return to the game he loves as soon as possible.
Speedy recovery, Claude.