Quick Shifts: Could Drake help the Leafs?

Drake hangs with Dion Phaneuf at the 2012 NHL All-Star Game. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty)

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and satirical, and rolling four lines deep.

1. Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, explained that Drake — the Toronto Raptors’ global ambassador and one guy who does not subscribe to the NBA club’s Tank Nation (unless we’re talking about ripping the sleeves off this black and gold shirt) — played a key role in luring soccer star Jermain Defoe to TFC. Apparently, Drake’s influence with his city’s sports monolith expands beyond the basketball court.

So it was only natural that Leiweke asked the rap star (jokingly, but we’re guessing not jokingly at all) if he knew any good NHL centremen that could help the Maple Leafs.

Some people view Drake’s involvement with MLSE as, at best, a gimmick or, at worst, embarrassingly bad business. Those people don’t have a firm grasp on the modern athlete. Plenty of rappers want to be athletes and vice versa. Of course, no free agent in their right mind would select a new home city simply for a chance to attend a few after-parties with Drizzy, but in a tight bidding war, wining and dining and cool factor can matter. Don’t be surprised to see Dave Bolland’s buddy‘s ambassadorship extended beyond the Raptors in the future.

“It was quite surreal, to be honest,” Defoe said of getting a phone call from Drake. “He just said it is a fantastic city and that I would enjoy it. That the fans are amazing and there is a great sports scene — not just football but also other sports.

“He just told me that if I came here the people would love me and that my family would enjoy it. He also said he would look forward to meeting me and showing me the city. It was a special phone call, and I appreciated that.”

2. Fourteen games and counting. Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller now owns the second-longest single-season winning streak in NHL history. Hiller’s streak is the league’s longest in two decades. Now only Gilles Gilbert’s 17-game run for Boston during 1975-76 stands between Hiller and the record book. Hiller’s incredible play couldn’t come at a better time, and not just for the NHL-leading Ducks. Not only is Hiller set to become an unrestricted free agent (read: strike it rich) in July, but he’ll be backstopping Team Switzerland in Sochi. A win over Latvia should be guaranteed, but if Hiller is still standing on his head a month from now, the Swiss could conceivably upset the Czechs and/or the Swedes in the preliminary round too.

3. Shaquille O’Neal handled puck drop for the opening face-off during Saturday’s Devils-Panthers game in Newark. He also had a chance to drive the Zamboni. The best part about all of this was that Shaq wore an Alexei Ponikarovsky sweater — extra smedium — for the formalities. Ponikarovsky, of course, is playing in the KHL.

4. Two New Jersey Devils are making their case for immortality. We’re not just talking about a Hockey Hall of Fame plaque (that’s a given), but actual immortality. Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr will seemingly never die as hockey players. Jagr, the team’s leading point-getter, just passed the likes of Mario Lemieux on the all-time scoring list — despite his three-season stint in the KHL — and is set to play in his fifth Olympic Games next month. And Brodeur is already thinking of playing in 2014-15. Cue up a weeping Cory Schneider.

“My heart is in [returning for another season]. My body could be another story,” Brodeur told NJ.com. “We’ll see. I’m done after this year with my contract depending on what’s going to happen in the next few months. If I feel good body-wise, I’ll see what is the best scenario for me, if it’s back in New Jersey or somewhere else. That’s something the future will bring.”
Forty-one is the new 31.

5. What do you do when you’ve already won a couple Stanley Cups? You take aim at the Kentucky Derby, naturally. Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville co-owns (with Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice) a three-year-old grey colt that is making a case to run at horse racing’s most prestigious (and most mint julepy) event. Coach Q’s aptly named Midnight Hawk currently ranks 10th among Derby steeds. The top 20 make the cut. Midnight Hawk won Saturday in the $100,000 Sham Stakes.

6. Welcome back, Wayne. The Great One participated in the NHL’s Dodger Stadium hype-up event prior to the outdoor game between the Kings and Ducks. Rest assured, Gretzky would not be part of the NHL’s official programming if the league hadn’t made good on the money it owed the former Coyotes investor in December. Wonder if there was an internal deadline to smooth things over with Gretzky lest the catalyst for California hockey growth be a no-show at the state’s grandest hockey spectacle. Was Gretzky’s participation written into the settlement?

Now, if only we could get Gretzky and Bettman to form a beach volleyball duo, a la Goose and Maverick, and throw down on the Dodger Stadium court… then we’d have something:

7. This might be the most impressive team stat of the season, dug up by Sportsnet’s researchers: Going into the weekend, Anaheim had a .700 winning percentage when trailing 1-0. No one else is even close to .500.

1. Anaheim Ducks .700 (14-5-1)
2. San Jose Sharks .474 (9-9-1)
3. Boston Bruins .450 (9-10-1)
4. Pittsburgh Penguins .421 (8-10-1)
5. Tampa Bay Lightning .417 (10-11-3)

8. One of the most interesting (i.e. wild) rumours I heard last week was that Sidney Crosby might have had a say in keeping Claude Giroux off of the Team Canada roster. I don’t believe 87’s influence is that strong, or that Crosby would dare try to keep Giroux off, but their rivalry is a fierce one.

According to multiple reports, Giroux is the first call if a Team Canada forward goes down — a very real possibility. Ryan Getzlaf already had a scare, and most NHL teams still have a dozen games to play before the Olympic break.

An injured player can be replaced on the roster up until Feb. 12, provided the replacement player’s name is on the country’s extended list, which was submitted back on Oct 1. Canada had more than 100 players on its long list.

9. Zenon Konopka, one of the NHL’s more outgoing personalities, posted his Team Canada B team on Instagram. Sabres hater “Princess Phaneuf” made Konopka’s cut:

10. Another Team Canada snub, Eric Staal, is bitter about his Team Canada exclusion, but probably not as bitter as the folks at General Mills, who began planning these box designs a year ago:


11.Dan Hamhuis, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Jamie Benn and Corey Perry are all changing their sweater numbers when they represent Team Canada in Sochi. At first blush, you’d think, “How the hell does Jay Bouwmeester get number 19 over Toews?” But seniority rules, and Toews did wear 16 back in Vancouver 2010. Perhaps it’s good luck.

12. He’s no BatKid, but Make-A-Wish recipient and Washington Capitals fan Braden Nienaber had the devilish privilege of tossing Steve Ott out of the face-off circle during the ceremonial puck drop on Sunday:

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