A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. “I’m sure we’ll try to do some load management or whatever you call it.”
This admission from Toronto Maple Leafs starting goaltender Frederik Andersen should be music to fans’ ears.
Since Andersen joined the Leafs three seasons ago, no NHL goalie has had more starts (192). No one has seen more ice (11,198 minutes), faced more rubber (6,221 shots) or made more saves (5,708).
GM Kyle Dubas has made public a plan to lessen Andersen’s burden, especially in the early months of the season.
This is on trend with the league at large, specifically the majority of clubs going deep in the playoffs.
Minutes after eliminating Andersen’s Leafs in Game 7, it stood out that Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, unprompted, bought up the fact his starter, Tuukka Rask, only saw 45 starts in 2018-19 (22nd-most in the NHL) and wonder if the benefits were paying off when it mattered most.
“Tonight, hopefully, we got some residual effect of that, where he was fresh the last couple games,” Cassidy said.
Andersen pushed through a groin issue last season and mentioned this week that “getting healthy” was right there alongside “getting better” in his summertime focus.
So, how much healthier is Andersen now compared to Game 7?
“Better,” Andersen replies.
Significantly better? A little better?
Andersen looked at the club’s 2019-20 schedule and noticed it becomes more compact “after the football season ends.” Toronto has 15 games stuffed into February, the shortest month of the year, and another 16 between March 1 and April 4.
He made a point of mixing in weekly on-ice practices earlier than normal over the summer to “keep that good feeling” and not feel like he’s starting all over again as he ramped up his training in August. And Andersen sees a natural link between health and confidence.
“I’m sure it’s nice to be healthy, and once you feel you can move at 100 per cent, I think you’re going to feel more fluid,” he says. “Same goes for everyone.”
2. Michael Hutchinson, the presumed front-runner for the backup position behind Andersen, re-signed for $700,000 and feels much more at home in Toronto after a “whirlwind” year that saw him bounce around cities and leagues and become a dad.
Hutchinson is aware that being No. 2 to a workhorse like Andersen means ugly, sporadic, back-to-back starts behind a tired group. And his trials in Winnipeg have matured him into the type of athlete who’s ready for that role. He sounds like a guy who’s accepted he won’t be an NHL No. 1 and that’s fine.
“It’s one of those things, the older you get, the easier that role becomes. The more you see that role, the more comfortable you are in it,” Hutchins explains. “Earlier on in my career, I might get too worked up about playing the second game on the road back-to-back with travel when I hadn’t played in two weeks. Now, as you get older, you let those things roll off. You go with the flow.
“You have to find a role within the team. That’s supporting Freddy and being ready when my number’s called.”
Hutchinson texted with Andersen through the summer. The two golfed with each other a few times in the off-season (“He crushes the ball,” Hutchinson says, conceding defeat on the links) and chat gear and technique with each other.
“It’s great to have the soundboard because he sees the game a little bit different than guys who play at his level,” Hutchinson says. “You just have to be a good person and good teammate. Freddy knows I support him 100 per cent. It’s a team game. The main goal for every single person in that room is winning the Stanley Cup.”
Yes, Hutchinson has adopted the Curtis McElhinney mindset.
So he’s not fussed with the Leafs signing veteran Michal Neuvirth, 31, to a PTO or the emergence of young talent like Kasimir Kaskisuo, Ian Scott and Joseph Woll — all of whom, Dubas says, are being considered for the backup gig.
“There’s always competition. It’s the NHL,” Hutchinson says. “When they signed him, I didn’t think much of it.
“Every single team in the NHL needs to have two really good goalies. Realistically, you need three good goalies in the organization. The number of teams playing just two good goalies is very minimal.”
3. Unless you’re a moustache aficionado, you’ll have to stick around to the 10:30 mark of Tim & Sid’s interview with Auston Matthews (watch below) for the most important topic: the amount of ice time, particularly in key situations, given to Matthews by Mike Babcock.
The 21-year-old ranked 38th league-wide among centres in average time on ice with 18:33. (The Leafs’ most-used centre, John Tavares, ranked 26th with 19:05 per night.)
Matthews, who says he’d love to be out there for all 60 minutes, and his coach discussed this rather touchy topic over the summer.
“We’re all kind of on the same page now,” said Matthews, acknowledging the dangers of overuse.
“I’d love to see myself on the ice a little bit more, especially in situations where we’re down a goal or we need a goal or we’re down two goals — doesn’t matter. That’s something we spoke about. Everybody’s on the same page.”
By hockey standards, Matthews publicly asking for more shifts rails against the norm. In interviews, 99 per cent of players will simply defer to the coach’s decision on where and when they’re used. Players just play and all that.
We’d tell you to monitor this situation, but we know you will.
4. As he gears up to try to outduel Garret Sparks for the right to back up Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas, Malcolm Subban says he expects brother P.K. to tap him for a wedding speech.
A smile creeps over Malcolm’s face when he says he has “a decent amount” of ammo to draw on.
“I’m not the best at talking in front of big crowds, but I’m sure it’ll be massive crowd there,” says the more subdued Subban, flashing a smile. “I’ll try to figure out some stuff and not slur my words like I did in this interview a couple times.”
5. I’d be mad if a professional hockey player named Vyacheslav Gretsky didn’t wear number 99 (or weigh precisely 99 kilos).
In his KHL debut for Dinamo Minsk this week, the 22-year-old Belarusian forward failed to register a point and was minus-two.
That other 99’s legacy is probably safe.
6. I was given a preview of the eye-opening sports/nutrition documentary, The Game Changers, which premieres Sept. 16 around the world.
Backed by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Novak Djokovic and Chris Paul, the film piles example upon example of elite athletes—endurance, strength, speed, combat—who have cut meat out of their diets and seen their careers soar.
The Tennessee Titans’ switch to team vegan meals is a wonderful example of how veggies can give us all the protein we need to perform.
And the parallel between the modern-day meat industry using athletes to push their product the way the cigarette industry used to is both striking and concerning.
Directed by Oscar winner Louie Psihoyos, The Game Changers will answer the question on all our minds: How the heck is Zdeno Chara still playing in the NHL at 42?
As world-record-holding strongman Patrik Baboumian says between flipping over cars with his bare hands, “Someone once asked me, ‘How can you get as strong as an ox without eating any meat?’ My answer was, ‘Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?’ “
7. The loyalty Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen has shown John Tortorella last September by extending the opinionated head coach to for two more years, and continually having his back in interviews, Tortorella returned this week by going to bat for the organization in the Zach Werenski stalemate.
If Werenski, an unsigned RFA, doesn’t show up for physicals next week?
“I’d be terribly disappointed,” Tortorella told The Athletic‘s Aaron Portzline. “I’m not involved in the business part of it. But for a young man to miss one minute of camp… it disgusts me.
“He has really grown as a player. I just don’t want him to miss a beat here. I won’t be disappointed, I’ll be disgusted.”
Unlike some clubs at loggerheads with their stud RFAs, cap space is no longer an issue in Columbus, which lost a wave of talent on July — in the wake of the greatest playoff run in franchise history, no less.
So we totally understand Tortorella’s frustration.
But imagine Werenski reading those quotes. Whoa, boy.
8. Hands up if you had Tyler Myers making almost $14 million more than Jake Gardiner on the open market?
Fellow Minnesotan Justin Holl worked out alongside his former Leafs teammate throughout Gardiner’s summer of uncertainty.
“He handled it really well,” Holl said, impressed. “Whenever I’ve talked to him, he’s been pretty relaxed about it. I think he’s confident in himself.”
Gardiner says the process, which lasted more than two months, was more of a strain on his wife, Lucy, than it was on him. It was important Lucy liked the idea of settling in Raleigh with their baby, Henry, for the next four years.
Gardiner’s also cited a strong right side to the Hurricanes’ D corps, the leadership of Rod Brind’Amour and Don Waddell, and joining a rising Cup contender as factors in his decision.
What’s interesting is that — unlike Wayne Simmonds, another veteran UFA coming off a down year — Gardiner opted for less money on an annual basis for the security of term, spurning the one- or two-year prove-it deals that came his way.
“I don’t feel like doing that again,” he says of the free agency process.
Good news for Hurricanes fans: Your 20th-ranked power play should only get better, and Gardiner says his back is now “100 per cent” healthy.
The bad news: Get ready for another barrage of Justin Faulk trade rumours.
As Gardiner correctly notes: “The blue line is one of the best in the league already.”
This makes lefty Faulk, entering the final year of his deal, a nice bit of trade bait to fetch some of the offence lost in Michael Ferland’s departure and Justin Williams’ break from the sport.
9. Five years after being drafted as a sixth-round gamble by the Florida Panthers, six-foot-five defenceman Josh Brown finally broke into the NHL last season, a rookie at 25.
The London, Ont., native, who trained with the likes of Drew Doughty and Corey Perry this summer, credits recently fired coach Bob Boughner for giving him that first taste.
“I really like Bob Boughner a lot. He gave me my chance. He put me in the lineup night in and night out. But with Quenneville coming in, that’s how it goes. He’s the second-most-winningest coach of all-time. And with some of the free agents coming in, on paper we have a really good squad,” Brown says.
“I know a spot isn’t guaranteed for me yet, but I’m gonna keep working hard and try to earn back my spot.”
A bench overhaul can greatly impact how players (and which players) are used as new eyes and new systems impact the roster, particularly fringe players like Brown.
Before Brown left Sunrise to summer back in Ontario, the Panthers’ message was that a culture change was coming. The goal: make the playoffs in 2020 and stay there.
Quenneville later rang up every Panther individually to check in.
“That was pretty cool. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get one of the phone calls. I was just a young guy. So it was pretty special to talk to him one-on-one, with all his accolades,” Brown says. “I’m excited for camp.”
Midway through his third pro season, Brown won’t forget sitting down in the Panthers dressing room on his first day after being called-up and seeing the No. 1 nameplate near his own.
“He was the first player, I was like, ‘Whoa. That’s Roberto Luongo.’ You see his stall close to yours and think, ‘That’s pretty cool. I’m lacing up with this guy.’ Two-time Olympic gold medallist. I watched all those games, plus I was a big Vancouver Canucks fan when I was a kid,” he says. “I’m glad I got to play with him, even though it was a short period.”
A true professional and great guy, Congrats on a HOF career Bobby Lu! I just wish I got to play with you longer, Enjoy retirement! pic.twitter.com/ALoXbaAO1k
— Josh Brown (@jrbrown94) June 26, 2019
10. Max Domi’s (first?) memoir, No Days Off: My Life with Type 1 Diabetes and Journey to the NHL, hits shelves Oct. 29.
The behind-the-scenes tales are nearly as juicy as the ones within his father’s book.
Max’s story is more an inspirational one for young people dealing with diabetes (or any challenge, for that matter), a reassurance that roadblocks must be hurdled in order to realize your dreams.
“If you’re going to write a book, saddle up. It’s fun, it’s cool, but it’s a lot of work,” Domi says. “I’m open minded. I’m dead honest in everything I say in it. I just don’t talk about the glory and the awesome parts of my life. It’s a lot of the hardships and things that go with being a Type 1 diabetic. All those little stories that go in it.
“I took a lot of pride in it, and I hope people like it.”
Domi chuckles at his younger self, who coasted through English and French classes as a student, figuring neither would be too critical to his career.
“Sure enough, I just wrote a book and I live in Montreal,” Domi says. “Funny how the world works, right?”
11. The Arizona Coyotes have committed $98.15 million in long-term deals to Clayton Keller, 21, and Nick Schmaltz, 23.
Those two forwards combined for a grand total of 21 goals in 2018-19.
This is how GMs can win (or lose) in the great RFA guessing game. Identify a star before he truly breaks out (see: Nathan MacKinnon, Mark Scheifele), take a big swing, then cross your fingers.
If it pans out, you could have one of the NHL’s best bargains — especially if labour peace, expansion, gambling revenue and a new U.S. broadcast deal jack up the cap ceiling.
If not, well, maybe you won’t have the job anyway by the time the player needs to be bought out.
It’ll be interesting to see if others follow John Chayka’s lead with this educated gamble.
12. Fun fact: Analysts have determined that if Ovi O’s can remain on North American shelves for seven more seasons, it has a chance to surpass Pro Stars in most boxes sold all-time. It’s a long shot, but we’re saying there’s a chance.
(P.S. Anyone else loving the idea of a smiling toothless guy selling sweetened breakfast cereal to children?)