A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. Of all the regular defencemen in the American Hockey League, only one (30-year-old Rochester journeyman Zach Redmond) has been more productive than Toronto’s Calle Rosen.
Rosen, 25, was stellar in the Marlies’ run to the Calder Cup last spring, nearly made the big club out of camp in the fall, and has developed into an even better defenceman since, earning a contract extension and being earmarked for a permanent role in 2019-20.
Had he not been felled by a shot to the foot, Rosen would’ve been called up already to bolster a Maple Leafs defence that’s been floundering with the double injury whammy that hit fellow lefty puck-movers Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott.
“Yeah, we talk lots about that. But that’s life, right?” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said.
“Rosen is a guy, obviously, that we would have liked to really give an opportunity for. We thought he might be ready this year at training camp. What we decided, though, is we haven’t hurt any of our players by sending them back. It’s actually they’ve gotten better and been better when they’ve arrived.”
In the eight games without Gardiner and Dermott, Toronto has surrendered an average of four goals per game. Project that over a season, and it would be worse than everybody and not even close.
Dermott (shoulder) is skating, so that’s something. Gardiner (back) isn’t.
In 52 games this season, Rosen (44 points) has already doubled his output in 62 games last season. A week ago, Rosen’s foot was too swollen to squeeze into a skate. Babcock himself might be the one icing it down at this point.
“I’ve checked on him a fair bit here of late, but that doesn’t make you get better any faster,” the coach said.
“Rosen is one of these guys who should generate offence. Those guys sometimes take a little more time just because of the defensive side.”
The defensive side is in shambles, and Frederik Andersen slumping down the stretch isn’t helping.
Boston will feast on Toronto if its blue line is not at full health.
2. The last thing the Maple Leafs need is to suddenly name a captain now, 70 games deep into the season.
Yet in the aftermath of uninspired consecutive home losses to Tampa and Chicago this week, the question of “Hey, what’s up with the C?” resurfaced.
Hall of Fame play-caller Joe Bowen cast his online vote for Morgan Rielly, to the tune of more than 4,100 likes on Twitter.
“It should be done — and done before the playoffs start,” said Bowen, doubling down on a Sportsnet 590 The Fan appearance.
We love Bowen — “He’s called every Leafs game for about 3,000 years,” Will Arnett said on-air Friday — but we respectfully disagree.
Naming a captain less than a month before the post-season would reek of panic and desperation. Plus, there is no absolute clear-cut captain of this team yet.
Rielly certainly has a case.
So does John Tavares, who is the most consistent and most accessible.
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are the future.
Babcock raves about the leaderships roles Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey play.
Don’t rush. These playoffs may produce a leader organically.
3. Some teams give out hard hats or top hats or fireman hats or four-wheeler crash helmets. We’ve seen custom WWE-style wrestling belts and sharpened axes. Astrological Kevin Spacey hoodies and camouflage coats.
Much in line with their recent no-captain policy, this edition of the Maple Leafs chooses not to pass around a “player of the game” token after each victory.
I asked longest-tenured member Nazem Kadri.
“We just rally around the logo here,” Kadri replied.
“We understand there’s crucial parts of this team individually, but we win as a team, lose as a team, and I don’t think we want to single out any players. We want to do it for the city, for the organization, for our fans and for each other.”
4. The quirky way the NHL awards wins and losses to goaltenders was exposed Wednesday in Toronto as the Blackhawks defeated the Maple Leafs 5-4 in a weird one.
Andersen was yanked during the first intermission after giving up four goals on 14 shots (.714 save percentage) and replaced by backup Garret Sparks for the remaining two periods.
Despite making 24 saves and giving his club a chance to rally back, the much-sharper Sparks (.960 save percentage) was the one in net when Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat scored the fifth and winning goal, and thus was charged with the loss.
This, despite inheriting a 4-0 deficit.
NHL rules state that whichever goalies are in net when the game-winner is scored will wear the decision.
5. Joel Quenneville’s young replacement, Jeremy Colliton, says it’s been an arduous process getting the club to buy into a revamped defensive system, one that places more of an emphasis on man-to-man coverage as opposed to Coach Q’s zone schemes.
There has been a stress on quicker transitions, limiting the opponents’ high-danger chances, and tightening a porous penalty kill. The tweaks began three months ago, and just over the past couple weeks, it has started to click.
The Hawks, winners of four straight, may still be last in the Central, but they’re the hottest team in the West. And perhaps the most desperate.
No surrender here.
“Everyone’s feeling more comfortable with how we have to play to win,” Colliton says. “Someone told me the other day that since mid-December we’re, like, fourth in the conference.”
Captain Jonathan Toews, who’s quietly on pace to break his career high in points (76), says it wasn’t so long ago they “were giving up offensive chances left and right.”
If Chicago miraculously makes the dance — we’re saying there’s a (7.8 per cent) chance — look out. Toews believes they’re playing their best hockey right now, which is a critical. He contrasts that with 2017, when the Hawks fumbled into the post-season and got promptly swept by Nashville in Round 1.
Storming the tournament with momentum means something.
“At the end of the day, if you look on paper, it’s been a good [coaching] change for us. Jeremy’s done a great job coming in and taking control of this locker room, so you gotta give him a lot of credit to step right into the NHL the way he has,” Toews says.
“The guys have really enjoyed his message to the team and what he’s brought to the locker room, and we’ve played really well in front of him.”
Toews figures he could sit and chat all day about the stylistic differences between Colliton, 34, and Quenneville, 60. I invited him to, but he wanted to nap and win a hockey game instead.
6. From the youngest coach to the youngest GM.
John Chayka isn’t ready to say he lost the trade — and, to the Coyotes’ credit, Nick Schmaltz has been a fine fit in Arizona (14 points in 17 games) — but the early returns of Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini in Chicago have been phenomenal.
Strome had all of 16 points in 48 total games as a Coyote. He has 43(!) through his first 46 games as a Blackhawk.
Perlini has 10 goals in 33 appearances in his new uni, and the two have formed one of the league’s most dangerous young scoring lines with DeBrincat, Strome’s ol’ junior buddy in Erie and temporary roommate in wake of the late-November trade.
“Raw ability” is what Colliton sees in Strome, who has developed into an important net-front presence on Chicago’s power play. Now the coach is seeing strides in the 22-year-old’s defensive game, too.
“If he can do that, the sky’s the limit,” Colliton says, “especially if you think about how young he is.”
As the conscience of a veteran room striving to get younger, Toews has had a blast watching firsthand the rapid progression of Perlini and Strome.
“Dylan especially,” Toews says.
“There’s probably a lot of great young players in this league you haven’t heard from yet that are maybe not getting their opportunity or are playing in the bottom six somewhere, and they’re not producing or building that confidence offensively.
“Stromer’s been one of those guys who as soon as he got here has been a great fit. He’s great friends with Alex, and the two of them have played great together.”
7. Prospect Carl Grundstrom couldn’t crack the Leafs’ lineup, but since moving to Los Angeles as the most-known commodity in January’s Jake Muzzin trade, the big Swede has flourished in a Kings system hungry for young offensive threats.
Piling up 10 points in 13 games with the AHL’s Ontario Reign, the 21-year-old earned a look-see with the big club and scored two goals in first two NHL games.
“Great guy to be around. He’s a Swede, so I liked him,” says former Marlies teammate Rasmus Sandin. “He played with my [older] brother before, so I knew him a little bit before Toronto. On the ice he’s a very, very competitive guy.
“Back then, in Sweden, we were doing this pond hockey thing, and no one wanted to go against him because if you took the puck, he’d slash you right over your shins. We didn’t have any shin pads on.
“So, a competitive guy and a great player overall. A scorer. They got a good one in him.”
8. Scott Hartnell was already the ceremonial faceoff king, and now he’s outdone himself.
Just as the recently retired player did for his first red-carpet ref gig back in December, dropping a ceremonial puck at the feet of Claude Giroux and Roman Josi, Hartnell put $100 on the line to the winner. Giroux defeated the defenceman in a surprisingly competitive draw.
Last weekend, Hartnell reprised his role, this time throwing a Benjamin down between Josi and Carolina captain Justin Williams.
“Hopefully Josi wins this one,” Hartnell said.
This time, however, Hartnell was holding his infant child, Wesley. Enough of a battle ensued that the carpet shifted underneath Hartnell’s feet (#HartnellJuniorDown?). Williams may or may not have thrown a cross-check.
We fully encourage this hilarious tradition. Just leave Wesley on the bench next time.
9. Very cool.
The Golden Knights launched a pair of Spanish-language social media accounts — @LosGoldenKnights on Instagram and @LosVGK on Twitter — to pump out content exclusively produced for their Spanish-speaking fans.
The Knights already broadcast all home games in Spanish on ESPN 1460 AM, with Jesus Lopez (play-by-play) and Herbert Castro (colour commentary).
That’s how you grow the game.
“One of the aspects of our fan base that we are most proud of is its diversity,” Knights chief marketing officer Brian Killingsworth said. “Our Spanish-language Instagram and Twitter accounts will provide followers with unique content they cannot find anywhere else, serving and engaging current fans while attracting new ones.”
10. The San Jose Sharks’ supporters group, Teal City Crew, created a giant Mike Hoffman retirement banner to honour Mike Hoffman.
“The greatest Sharks player for three hours in franchise history,” you’ll recall, was flipped in a shrewd bit of business by GM Doug Wilson from Ottawa to Florida in the off-season because Ottawa didn’t wish to deal with a divisional rival.
Hoffman loved the hilarious troll so much, he posed for a photo after the fans displayed the banner at Florida’s practice.
11. Big shoutout to our friend Steve “Dangle” Glynn.
Steve’s book, This Team Is Ruining My Life (But I Love Them), is so good, it registered on Canada’s nonfiction best-seller list before it was even released.
A remarkable story of how if you love something enough and pour in the hours, you don’t need to “get hired” or “be employed” in order to start your path to success.
Good times at Dangle’s book launch at Town Brewery in Whitby, Ont., Thursday night (try the Levon Saison), although I did wake up twice with night terrors after bumping into this life-sized cardboard cutout of the author:
12. “That’s the greatest thing I’ve seen in a while!” tweeted captain Nick Foligno, capturing my thoughts exactly. “Our Cannon Crew is the best in the business!”
Foligno made certain to include a string of those laugh-so-hard-you-cry emojis, which is how I feel watching this clip for the 647th time.
In comedy’s 2018-19 season, the prat fall remains 82-0.