A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. In preparation for filling out the ol’ NHL Awards ballot, this week I picked the brain of Denis Potvin, a three-time Norris Trophy winner and four-time Stanley Cup champion.
Like any good rush, the Hall of Famer’s opinions on trophies began at the back end and finished strong with a clear take on the Connor McDavid for MVP debate.
SPORTSNET.CA: Who is your Norris favourite this season?
DENIS POTVIN: “I miss [Erik] Karlsson not being in it. I like Karlsson. I was in Ottawa [doing Senators commentary] for four years, so I know him more than I know most other guys. I don’t think there’s a favourite this year, with Brent Burns having a slow start. I’ve watched that kid in Dallas [Jon Klingberg]; he looks really good on the offence. But you’re looking for a guy that can do the job, like a [Drew] Doughty. It doesn’t help that Calgary didn’t do the job; I like [Mark] Giordano very much as a defenceman. After that, Alex Pietrangelo might finally do it. I’ve been hearing for six, seven years he’s going to be the next Norris Trophy winner. That’s a long time, but he might just break through. I’m not sure I could pick a winner right now.
How much should points matter?
Points matter a lot, and I’m sensitive about that. Two Norris trophies went to [Rod] Langway when I was scoring 100 points [to earn mine]. It’s a little unfair in that Langway deserved to have an award because of the type of defenceman he was and the type of player he was, so I understand that. But at the time it was either [Bobby] Orr or [Paul] Coffey or me or Larry [Robinson], and when you look at the point totals, it was always a big part of the decision. If there’s two things a defenceman does, it’s defend and create offence. It has to be entered into the equation. There should be a total other award called the Ken Morrow Award — the best friggin’ defenceman I’ve ever played with, ever seen. Nobody’s better than him inside centre ice.
Do you think the writers tend to make up for a guy they’ve neglected for a while, like a Pietrangelo?
Yeah, and the [Blues] look like they’re going to make the playoffs. That’s very key. Other than the Calder Trophy, as a trophy winner, if your team doesn’t make the playoffs … c’mon. There’s 16 teams that make it, and most of these awards came out when there were 21 teams. There isn’t a guy who wins an [individual] award and doesn’t cherish the word win. If you don’t win, what are you gonna be? You shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. You shouldn’t be in any one of those categories where everyone else, all they did was win.
Have you always believed that?
I’m not the innovator of that. The first guy who told me that was Al Arbour [the late coach of the Islanders dynasty]. He knew when I came in as a rookie [in 1973-74], we had the worst team in the history of the game. He told me, “If you want to win some of these awards”– because people were talking about it — “our team better make the playoffs.” Right then I heard him, believed him, and I still do.
OK. So, what about Connor McDavid and the Hart this year?
That’s an anomaly. He may be the exception. He’s so unique, that kid. The greatest thing about McDavid is he’s not like anybody. You cannot come to me and say, ‘McDavid is like so-and-so.’ You know how they always do that? ‘Auston Matthews plays like Aleksander Barkov.’ Or, ‘Barkov plays like [Anze] Kopitar.’ There’s none of that. McDavid is unbelievably unique. I’ve never seen anything like it. That speed. The puck handling. Whole package. You have to be pretty friggin’ bad to have him on your team and not win. You’ve got to be [very] bad. I love Pete Chiarelli, and I hope Pete just goes, ‘Well, I have 18 players to trade this summer.’ It’s terrible, and a lot of it has to do with commitment from the players, for whatever reason. To have a player like that and be that bad? After being in the playoffs last year? If this was McDavid’s first year, OK. Two 100-point seasons, he’s had.
But you wouldn’t give McDavid the Hart?
The bottom line is, what does it matter? What does it matter if the team doesn’t win. The Calder is the only trophy [that should go to an individual on a non-playoff team].
2. We will have waited five years for the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award winners to get split. Sidney Crosby won the peer award for “most outstanding player” in 2012-13, when the hockey writers gave Alex Ovechkin the Hart.
McDavid could cause such a divide if the players view him as the most outstanding, which he is. It’ll be interesting to see the results.
In general, active players don’t like chiming in publicly on these awards, but Patrick Marleau was recently pressed on the topic and said he said he’d be hesitant to give the Hart to a player whose team didn’t make the post-season.
“I’m glad it’s not my decision,” he smiled.
3. “If you need insurance, I know a guy,” Auston Matthews snapped Wednesday.
He has seen buddy Mitchell Marner‘s trilogy of Intact Insurance commercials, which were filmed a couple of months ago:
“That day, actually, we were meeting at Patty Marleau’s house and Mitch ended up being so late,” Matthews recounted, “and it was because he was shooting this commercial. So he couldn’t have been that good if he had to do so many retakes.”
Marner defends the spots, saying he’s been getting mostly positive reviews. Marleau gave Marner the thumbs-up when the budding actor played his pseudo father the clips on the team bus.
“No Sasquatch, though,” says Marleau, referencing buddy Brent Burns’ ad series for dehydrated beef.
Marner is the team’s self-proclaimed film buff, but the ads marked the first time he’d acted since he nailed the role of Tree in a school play when he was about eight.
“I was in Grade 2 or 3. I did The Jungle Book, but at that point of time I was literally a tree so, by acting, I was standing there in a tree uniform and doing nothing,” explains Marner, who always enjoyed drama class.
“Some of the [takes for the Intact shoot] were one and done, some were 10 or more probably. But, I mean, Marty was there for most of the day, so he saw it. I thought he did a pretty good job and he said I did a pretty good job.”
Ah, yes. Matt Martin’s scene-stealing cameo.
“The shirt they made me wear was a little too tight, but other than that we had fun with it,” Martin said. “The acting was pretty good for the most part, pretty good I’ll say.”
4. Dan Marrazza — author behind the much-celebrated, often-hated, almost-always-poking Vegas Golden Knights Twitter account — left the organization last week on good terms.
The self-described “dad joke enthusiast” was in a rather unique position to create a unique social media voice for a major brand from scratch.
The original concept for the voice was to be this uber-confident, braggart-type character that would act like the Knights were the ultimate when, on the ice, they’d be an endearing but struggling mess. Like, the feisty little runt who wants to pick fights but scares no one. Vegas wanted to laugh while they lost. Great idea.
But! When the Golden Knights shocked the world and turned out to actually be one of the NHL’s elite teams, the planned personality came off more jerky than ironic, and they had to adapt on the fly.
The account may not be for everyone, and it may have crossed a line a couple times, but we appreciate the effort Marrazza made to have some fun in a sport that so often leans to the conservative.
5. Buffalo centre Ryan O’Reilly suffers from Good Player on Bad Team syndrome. As a result, the 27-year-old, two-way centre has represented Canada at five world championships, winning two gold and one silver medal overseas.
This week, he enthusiastically raised his hand to go a sixth time.
“If I get the invite for sure I would go. The IIHF puts on a great tournament. To go and represent your country with great players, I’d go anytime. Anytime they ever ask, I’d absolutely 100 per cent go,” O’Reilly said.
“It’s something in our Canadian DNA. We all want to represent our country. It’s another chance to win something, and you want to be a part of it.”
Sidney Crosby’s gone. Connor McDavid looks to be headed back. O’Reilly told me he’s acted as a recruiter for the tournament.
“Guys have asked me about it before, like, ‘You’ve been in a bunch before. Should I go? It’s at the end of the year. It’s long.'” O’Reilly said.
“I love it. It’s a chance to win. Hockey Canada does a great job. They take care of us well. For family coming over, it’s a great experience for them, too. It is a long tournament, but it’s really good. Any guys I talk to, I say, ‘If you have a chance, go. You don’t make the playoffs, it’s the next best thing to go there and win a gold medal.'”
We wondered if Carey Price will attend and get some of that winning mojo back.
“That’d be nice,” O’Reilly said. “I hope so.”
6. Florida star Jonathan Huberdeau‘s career campaign was highlighted by a dominant offensive performance Wednesday in Toronto: two goals, eight shots, and a near hat trick stolen only by a desperate Frederik Andersen glove save.
The 2013 Calder winner has already crushed personal bests in goals (25), assists (42), game-winners (four), average ice time (19:16) and takeaways (51) with more than a week of hockey left.
The big reason?
“I’ve been trying to shoot a little bit more,” he says. “I need to keep doing it. I need to help the team win.”
Huberdeau’s 188 shots are also the most of his career, and he’s more accurate than ever, converting 13.3 per cent of attempts.
Coach Bob Boughner credits dropping Huberdeau off Aleksander Barkov‘s top line and pairing the big winger with Vincent Trochek as a major factor in the Cats’ second-half success. The new NHL is all about balancing your attack.
7. One more off-ice item on the Golden Knights.
The club announced a “Knights Vow” for season ticket holders purchasing playoff tickets. If the fans take the vow, they get to pay less for tickets but surrender their right to resell them for a profit on the second-hand market.
A very clever plot to keep as many tickets as possible out of the hands of those evil travelling fans from St. Louis or Anaheim or wherever.
Love that the league’s new blood is bringing in fresh experiments. That’s what can happen when a business is not restrained by the “this is the way we always do things” shackles.
8. Brad Marchand knows well how his former national coach, Mike Babcock, enjoys twisting knobs through his press conferences.
With the Leafs and Bruins headed toward a probable playoff collision, Babcock was asked Monday about scouting the rival on TV.
“I turned over to watch Minny and Boston, and then I saw Boston make about 15 plays in two minutes on the power play and so I just shut it off,” Babcock said.
Marchand’s response was brilliant:
Its called playing mind games.
— Brad Marchand (@Bmarch63) March 27, 2018
Because the Bruins disturber is never too far away from a hockey headline, here’s Marcus Johansson’s sobering critique of the Marchand elbow that put him out for more than two months:
Here are #NJDevils Marcus Johansson's unabridged thoughts on the Bruins' Brad Marchand hit that left him with a 2nd concussion in 3 months. This is one of the most honest, raw and thorough takedowns of another NHL player/a dirty hit as you'll see. pic.twitter.com/sjgTuLqHe8
— Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22) March 26, 2018
9. When a talented team crumbles down the stretch, calling out the group’s character is a go-to reaction from afar.
Calgary Flames coach Glen Gulutzan fired back as his critics and took ownership of the collapse.
“For me, that comes from sources that have no idea. I’ve been in a lot more locker rooms than a lot of people that are spouting off, and there’s really good character in that room,” Gulutzan, rumoured to be on the hot seat, said to the Calgary Sun.
“Nobody knows the inner workings of our group better than us. We have guys getting handed Muhammad Ali awards, and we’re questioning character now? That’s B.S. in my mind. No one is in that room.
“Everyone wants to point blame, but the blame, at the end of the day, goes to the guys that are running it, not the players in there. That’s me. So to question their character? That’s B.S.”
John Tortorella urged Calgary to give Gulutzan (and GM Brad Treliving) another chance when his Blue Jackets rolled into town.
“I watch it very closely … I know it’s a really hard place to play,” Tortorella told the Sun. “There have been some struggles and there have been some expectations here. Don’t give up on him.”
“Patience is a very important thing when you’re trying to build a hockey club,” he added. “I can see it — I saw it on him this morning. It wears on you. It’s wearing on Gully. It’s been hard on him because he cares … it’s part of the game and Gully totally understands that.
“But you’ve got the right man there, no question.”
10. Columbus’s Artemi Panarin had an ‘A’ stitched on his sweater this week upon captain Nick Foligno getting injured long term, another sign that he’s endearing himself to the Blue Jackets.
The playful sniper has a Starbucks strategy that is downright brilliant. What’s the Russian word for beauty?
Just saw Artemi Panarin at a coffee shop here in Calgary. When they ask him what name to put on the cup, he tells them, “John.”
“If I tell them, ‘Artemi’ … no chance. I just say, ‘John’ every time.”
— Brian Hedger (@JacketsInsider) March 28, 2018
11. The Maple Leafs became the first NHL team in 2017-18 to have three 30-goal scorers — James van Riemsdyk (35), Auston Matthews (30) and Nazem Kadri (30), all of whom skate on different lines — and not one of them ranks among the NHL’s top 10 in the category.
Odder still, not one of them ranks among the top two in Leafs scoring. Marner (67 points) is all but guaranteed to lead the Leafs in points and not hit 30 goals (he’s at 21).
I asked the math wizards at SN Stats to look this configuration up.
The last team with three 30-goal scorers where none of them led the team in points was the 2011-12 Sharks. Setup man Joe Thornton was the points leader; Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau were the goal-getters.
It’s been 16 years since a team has had three 30-goal men who predominantly skated on different lines and none of them led the club in scoring.
In 2001-02, the Bruins had three 30-goal scorers — Bill Guerin (41), Glen Murray (35) and Brian Rolston (31) – but Sergei Samsonov paced that team with 70 points.
“That’s been a key to our success,” notes Connor Brown. “Having four waves going.”
That’s some crazy forward depth. Surely it must’ve worked out well for those ’12 Sharks and ’02 Bruins, right?
For what it’s worth, both teams were ousted in Round 1 of the playoffs.
12. In light of 41-year-old Zdeno Chara, a giant endorser of his new plant-based diet, inking a contract extension Wednesday, Roberto Luongo, the NHL’s eldest netminder, was asked to reveal his secret to longevity.
“Carb-based diet. Lots of carbs,” Luongo replied, without blinking. “Pasta, pizza, that kind of stuff. I’m Italian.”
Everyone laughed. Strombone won.
“Listen, it’s challenging to say the least,” said Luongo, whose injuries have limited him to 30 games played this season.
“The main thing is, I feel good when I play games. In between, not so much. As long as I can take care of my body and I know what I need to do, once the puck drops, that’s all that matters to me.
“I’m never satisfied with the way I play. I always want to find things that make me better and you just put in the work. Even though I may have slowed down over the last few years, all in all, technically, I’m probably the best I’ve ever been.”
To Tyler Bozak’s chagrin, he proved it a few hours later in Toronto:
“The one thing about the game is as soon as your game is gone, we don’t let you play the game anymore. We kick you out,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who rode Luongo to Olympic glory.
“So, he’s still the starter of a real good team, he’s got real good numbers [.926 save percentage], and he’s confident in his abilities.
“He knows where the puck is coming from before it comes.”