A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Written from a basement in Toronto.
1. If Egor Korshkov keeps playing against NHL-calibre competition the way he did in the Toronto Maple Leafs B-squad’s victory over the Montreal Canadiens‘ A-team Monday in Montreal, Ilya Mikheyev might not be the only KHLer making a jump onto Toronto’s NHL roster next week.
After five seasons with Lokomotiv, the six-foot-four Korshkov got his first taste of North American hockey last spring, when he played nine playoff games for the Marlies.
Korshkov, 24, scored twice in the 3-0 exhibition victory, earning a look Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena alongside fourth-liners Jason Spezza and Frederik Gauthier as part of the Leafs’ “NHL roster” for the club’s final pre-season game.
It’s his best chance to make the cut.
“I’ve been seeing a real good player right from the get-go, just because of his hands and his hockey sense for a man that big,” said coach Mike Babcock. “I mean, he makes plays every time he has it. We’ve seen that right through.
“We often say he’s not that quick, but then I saw him skate by three NHL D-men (Monday) night. Maybe he’s just that big he doesn’t look that quick.”
The Maple Leafs believe Korshkov (and Mikheyev, for that matter) will only up their performance and reaction time once they acclimatize themselves with the size of the rink and, perhaps more importantly, the language.
“It didn’t seem to hurt Korsh,” Babcock quipped.
“It’s not easy for ’em. I can’t imagine if I’m in Russia and I’m trying to keep up to things going 100 miles an hour. Over time, they’re gonna get it. It goes to show you how good a player.”
Has the veteran coach picked up any Russian in his travels and dealings with so many imports to his roster?
“No,” Babcock replied. “Sure none I can repeat.”
Find your man, bury the puck. Simple but effective.
— NHL (@NHL) September 24, 2019
2. Never underestimate the dressing room seating map.
It’s seemingly a small thing, but clubs and players — much like wedding planners — put more thought into who sits where than you might imagine.
When you secure a special young talent in Jack Hughes, it’s important to have another skilled veteran in his ear. That why Team USA purposely sat Hughes beside Patrick Kane at the world championships.
We love this display of leadership from Taylor Hall:
3. On Friday morning, Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff woke up knowing there were just four unsigned restricted free agents still on the board and he owned the rights to half of them.
When looking at Winnipeg’s predicament — now exacerbated by Dustin Byfuglien’s indecision — I was compelled to go back and read my notes from a business-of-hockey conference panel Cheveldayoff appeared on last winter.
For one, how much is the Jets’ reluctance to juice their player contracts with signing bonuses hindering these talks?
High-end players will often take a little less on average annual value if they’re able to get big chunks of real cash upfront and earn some loot through investments.
That approach certainly helped cash-rich Toronto in the John Tavares sweepstakes.
The other thing Cheveldayoff may be wary about is investing too high a percentage of his payroll into wingers, conventionally presumed to be the least important position.
Blake Wheeler is on the books long-term at $8.25 million, Patrik Laine comes in very short term at $6.75 million, Nikolaj Ehlers is at $6.125 million and Mathieu Perreault costs $4.125 million.
If/when Kyle Connor, whom the Jets had been more open to giving term, comes in at market value, he’ll really tilt the team’s payroll to the wings.
Calgary Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk (three years times $7 million) rewrote the rules for a short-term scorer. Connor has found the back of the net at a greater rate than Tkachuk over their short careers.
“The outlier sometimes skews the league and skews the cap system to a point where it does make it difficult to kinda keep those players. Is it the exception or is it the rule?” said Cheveldayoff, speaking in general terms.
“I’m representing the pie. I got to fit it into this pie. They’re trying to get the biggest slice.”
4. Brad Treliving was relieved to squeeze Tkachuk back into the fold without having to make a zero-leverage trade off the roster. He’d much rather do the demote and recall dance with fringe players to save cap space than have his hand forced.
That said, it won’t be ideal when cornerstone young scorers Tkachuk (RFA, requiring a presumed $9 million qualifying offer) and Johnny Gaudreau (UFA) both come knocking for raises on July 1, 2022.
Sean Monahan ($6.375 million AAV) will look like a virtual steal that day, and the U.S. broadcast revenue better be as lucrative as everyone is banking on.
5. The titleholder for “My Favourite Player I’d Never Heard Of Before But Now Think He’ll Tear It Up” is Buffalo Sabres winger Victor Olofsson.
A seventh-round gamble in 2014, the slick-shooting Swede lit up the AHL last season, his first in North America, and put up four points in a six-game call-up with Buffalo at the end of 2018-19.
He’s had the hot hand in pre-season, creating highlights and reaping so much praise from coach Ralph Krueger, he could get a look on Jack Eichel’s left side — even though the organization just signed Jeff Skinner for $72 million.
“Victor is just permanently dangerous,” Krueger told reporters. “He’s a shooter.
“In practice, we’ve been watching it. We’ve seen it in the other games already. He’s a threat all the time.”
Fantasy deep sleeper, kids.
6. My, how quick things can change.
As the internal race for the final D-man spots on the Maple Leafs roster wages on, the tallest man in the race, Ben Harpur, watched his stock tumble and now finds himself on waivers.
Teenager Rasmus Sandin and refreshed journeyman Martin Marincin are your clubhouse leaders, with Justin Holl and Kevin Gravel seemingly passing Harpur, who had curried Babcock’s favour early in camp — in part by fighting Ottawa Senators agitator Scott Sabourin.
“He’s a big, physical guy who can look after his teammates, so he’s way different than most of us on this team. That separates him,” Babcock said. “He just has to keep grinding away and do his thing.”
Yet Harpur’s pre-season will end without a taste on the A-team and is set to join the Toronto Marlies. Read into that what you will.
Harpur said his willingness to drop the gloves makes him “unique” in an organization — and, increasingly, a league — that favours speed and skill. He fought six times with the Senators last season, equaling his total from four years of junior.
Throwing fists wasn’t part of Harpur’s repertoire until he reached the AHL. The Sens encouraged him to fight, essentially saying it would give him his best shot of making the big league.
We asked the big man to think back to his very first fight in Guelph. He was nervous and not very good.
“Fighting’s kinda weird in the sense where if you think about it, you become more nervous. Him and I had gone at it a bit during the game, and I thought about it too much,” Harpur said. “But over the years, I’ve learned to dive in and get right into it. I think you do better that way. You never want to be in a position where you’re thinking about it, whether it’s the night before a game or throughout the game. It gets in your head and kinda freezes you when you get into the actual fight.
“The game’s different now. There’s no staged fights anymore. It’s more a reactionary thing. You don’t have to think about it too much beforehand.”
Harpur’s dance card filled up as soon as he was getting paid in Binghamton.
“I found that being a rookie and being a bigger guy, there’s a lot of guys who go out of their way to challenge you. It was just a byproduct of playing with an edge,” he explained.
“Ottawa was big on me introducing something to my game that they really emphasized was something I needed to do to make the jump to the NHL and earn that call-up.
“There’s not a ton of guys who really do it anymore. That’s not to say I’m going out looking for it or anything. It’s just a reactionary thing, like what happened the other night. If something happens in the game where I feel it’s needed, then I can do it for sure.”
Harpur has been partnered with righty Jordan Schmaltz, another AHL/NHL tweener destined for a year on the bubble.
“With Harp, he’s a guy who’s 6-6. He’s a pretty big tower back there, so I think if we can complement each other well, whether that’s with our skating or our sticks to defend the blue line, then go in our end and be hard, everything else will come easy,” said Schmaltz.
It’s important to remember that guys like this aren’t just auditioning for the Leafs but for the other 30 clubs as well.
7. Of all the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues whose names are now etched into the Stanley Cup for eternity, 10-year veteran Michael Del Zotto is the only one who never appeared in a single playoff game for the club.
Del Zotto only played seven regular-season games for St. Louis and has since rejoined the Anaheim Ducks, but the club can request that a name or two be added.
Del Zotto describes his hours with the Cup as the “best day of my life.” His brother, David, flew from New York to Toronto for the party, and Michael was moved seeing his parents’ happiness after all their sacrifices of working full-time plus putting two sons through high-level hockey.
“It was an emotional day,” said Del Zotto. “Seeing my brother lift the Cup over his head … he’s a bigger hockey fan than I am. He loves hockey. That was probably the coolest moment of my life: seeing my brother with the Cup over his head and a big grin on his face.”
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) July 10, 2019
8. Happy cap compliance season!
By Tuesday afternoon, all 31 teams must tuck themselves under the $81.5-million ceiling. As of Saturday, nine(!) teams are over that limit, according to CapFriendly.com. Another three have a cushion of less than $1 million. Seven more have less than $2 million to spend.
So, keep your eyes on the transaction wire.
Also, with roughly 61 per cent of the league entering the season with under $2 million in wiggle room, the number of buyers for pure rentals come trade deadline time should shrink.
On the flip side, this is good news for the few clubs that may be willing to spend instead of save in-season.
9. A familiar name is in the early running for KHL’s scoring lead. A 35-year-old Alexander Semin ranks third in points in the Russian league, putting up 12 through his first 10 games.
Only former Golden Knight Vadim Shipachyov and Minnesota Wild prospect Kaprizov Kirill (13 points apiece) have more.
Kirill, one of the most intriguing point-producers outside the NHL, is an interesting project. New Wild GM Bill Guerin, who holds Kirill’s rights on this side of the Atlantic, has explored the possibility of bringing him stateside.
Minnesota needs offence. The 22-year-old winger is reportedly open to the idea. His contract with CSKA expires in April.
10. Hey, Leafs: Don’t announce John Tavares as captain via press release and stiff press conference prior to opening night.
Just have him come out to take the season-opening face-off casually wearing the “C” on his crest.
Zoom in with your Jumbotron cam, and let the fans react.
11. The Dallas Stars raised the creative bar with their Super Mario Bros.–inspired announcement of the Tyler Seguin contract extension last September, and it’s awesome to see teams like the Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Flames following suit when they have some big news to splash.
Sports are supposed to be fun.
“I love it,” said Steve Mayer, the NHL’s chief content officer.
“When Brayden Point gets signed, how do you let people know — not only Tampa Bay Lightning fans and hockey fans but sports fans? I’ve gotta give the teams a lot of credit. Many teams have invested in personnel that bring that creativity and have a significant amount of experience and aren’t these entry-level, never-done-this-before people. And it shows.”
Hockey’s reputation as rigid and straight-faced, particularly at the league and team levels, is slowly but surely cracking a smile. And that should have a trickle-down effect on the players.
“It’s cool to push the envelope a little bit. Let’s be super creative. How do we catch people’s eye? How do we cut through the clutter?” said Mayer, giving kudos to teams’ efforts toward keeping hockey fresh in people’s minds on social media through the off-season.
“And that’s not easy to do. A lot of teams got significantly creative in order to do that, and I think that’s super cool.”
The NHL is not just competing with, say, the NBA for your attention, but with Netflix and Spotify and every other entertainment outlet in your pocket.
Mayer was especially impressed with the outrageous/goofy/bombastic ceremony the Devils threw to celebrate the arrival of P.K. Subban.
“They thought out of the box and got attention for it,” Mayer applauded. “We at the league, we need the teams to be contributing, and the level they’re contributing is significant right now. They’re doing a great job, and we encourage it to continue.”
12. This is wonderful on, like, three levels: