A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. A week ago today, Frederik Andersen made an admission.
Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender confessed, he was totally trying to score a goal in the waning seconds, leading 3-2 with Connor Hellebuyck pulled at the opposite end of Scotiabank Arena.
After gathering a puck at the front of his crease in no immediate danger, Andersen figured he had a choice: either safely smother the thing or take his shot down-ice. Either way, the result would be a defensive zone faceoff. If he actually hit his target? Boom, 4-2, game over. If he missed, the icing would burn another couple seconds off the clock.
Being a lefty, Andersen fired the puck 200 feet, aiming for the Jets’ right post and expecting a curl to the middle of the vacated goal. He missed by about eight feet to the left and has no regrets. Watch:
Andersen has scored a professional goal before, just not at the NHL level.
Back in Denmark, holding fort in a 2010 playoff series for the Frederikshavn White Hawks against the Rødovre Mighty Bulls, Andersen had himself another close call like last Saturday’s versus the Jets, but the puck scooted wide.
“My dad actually gave me s—. He said, ‘Yeah, I’m still a little closer to scoring a goal than you are.’ He was a goalie and had tried once, too, but it was only a couple feet wide,” Andersen recalls.
The very next game in the series, Andersen found himself with a mulligan. He could hardly believe his luck.
“They dumped it down, we were up 4-2 with like 20 seconds left. I got out there to stop. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. They just saw me try it the last game and there’s no one up the middle. Oh, I’m-a go for it again.’ I hit it this time and finally got it. It’s funny they didn’t cover up the middle and I had a wide-open lane,” says Andersen, happy to recount the tale.
What’s striking about that goal (watch above) is how subdued Andersen’s celebration is.
“I was very calm. Just a very happy little fist pump and guys huddled in,” he says. “I didn’t get to do much because all the players kinda swarmed right away.”
Andersen, an avid golfer in the off-season, has never punched a hole-in-one, but he’s considered which would be the tougher feat. It’s not even close. The average hack should make a hole-in-one once out of every 12,000 rounds.
Only 11 different goaltenders in NHL history have scored (Ron Hextall has did it twice and Martin Brodeur thrice), and half of the goalie goals have not been direct hits but rather own-goals where the netminder got credit as last to touch the puck.
Andersen diligently works on his puck-clearing and stretch-passing as “a secondary skill” with goalie coach Steve Briere. He can count his legit shots at scoring. In addition to Saturday’s attempt, he says he had one versus Calgary last season, one in the AHL and the two in Denmark.
“You don’t get that many opportunities,” Andersen says. “I’d love to get one. It’d be fun if it went in, but it’s a novelty. It doesn’t really matter. You’re not deciding a game. You’re icing one, maybe.”
The magic stick Andersen used to score for the White Hawks is safe in his family garage back home in Herning, unmarked.
“But I know which one it is,” Andersen assures.
“It’s one of those things. You collect a lot of stuff, but one day you probably hang it up in your man-cave.”
2. Calgary’s Mike Smith is the most recent goaltender to score in an NHL game, a feat he accomplished in October 2013 when he was with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Smith lit up when we broached the topic this week.
“Everything has to go just perfect: the time, the score of the game, the opportunity to go out and play it. My goal there was with 0.1 second left on the clock, two-goal lead, less than 10 seconds left in the game and the guy dumps it on net,” Smith explained.
“If you’re gonna get a green light, that’s the one—a dump on net. It’s a lot more difficult when you have to go behind the net and start shooting it over everyone. It’s an indescribable feeling.
“I will say I scored in the East Coast League my first year pro [in 2002]. Ever since then, when the goalie’s out, you have this notion that comes over you: Hey, you can score again. But you have to refocus because, obviously, you don’t want them to score on you. You’re not out there to score goals, but it’s a unique situation and one I’ll never forget.”
I love the fact that it’s the guys who’ve had a taste who want more. Once you know it’s possible, once you’ve had a taste, one isn’t enough.
Smith has kept the stick and the puck from his goal against the Red Wings in a safe place. He estimates that the conditions for a starting goalie to even consider a shot on net only occurs about twice a season, if he’s lucky. Then you gotta hit your mark from 200 feet. Two or three where you have the time.
“And with a one-goal lead, you’re not going to be sending it down there and icing the puck,” he says.
“You’re playing with fire at that point. You want the win. Everything has to be right.”
3. Here’s a list of the soon-to-be restricted free agents averaging a point-per-game or better through the first month of the season: Mikko Rantanen, Matthew Tkachuk, Sebastian Aho, Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, Timo Meier, and Brayden Point.
Another group — Teuvo Teravainen, Kyle Connor, Kasperi Kapanen, and William Karlsson — is right on their heels.
Banks will get busted.
4. Wise GMs are getting the jump on potential cap crunches by signing young players to term months ahead of deadline. We saw it recently with George McPhee and defenceman Nate Schmidt, and again Friday with rookie GM Julien BriseBois locking up Yanni Gourde for six years at a nice $5.166 cap hit.
That figure can’t help William Nylander’s ask, considering Gourde put up more points last season (64) and is more rounded defensively and is based entirely on UFA years, but it’s a great look for (tax-free) Tampa.
McPhee’s comments upon the Schmidt signing were particularly interesting, and they go against the ol’ if-you-got-time-use-it philosophy. Vegas did the same thing with Alex Tuch in October, too.
Lock ’em up now before the price goes up.
“I like that we’re getting a lot of it done now and so we can focus on the rest of the season. It makes the summers easier in terms of forecasting and in trying to plan what you want to do,” McPhee said.
“It’s not an easy thing when you have six or seven or eight guys [to sign]. They’re either unrestricted or restricted free agents, and it’s too hard to sort of predict where guys might end up on salaries or whether you’re going to get them signed at all or not. So we’re happy to get them done.
“It’s important to get them done in our terms and, you know, I worry to some degree where the salaries are going to go next summer — some of the guys that are up on other teams — and it’s important to us, too. Be aggressive. Get it done early.”
5. Elias Lindholm (fifth overall) was selected one pick ahead of Sean Monahan in the 2013 draft. From a conference away, Monahan says he’s kept an eye on Lindholm’s career ever since.
Now linemates thanks to this summer’s blockbuster that brought Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to Calgary, the two ’94 babies find their names linked again, on the Flames goal-scoring leader board.
“You keep tabs on good players in the NHL and watch them play, and he’s one of those guys who’s fun to watch play. He plays the right way,” says Monahan, who raves about what his draft mate has brought west.
“Everything. He’s good in the circle. He’s smart, he shoots the puck, he’s responsible, he’s just a solid, complete player, and he’s a huge addition to our group. Just skating with him in training camp, you could tell how good of a player he is. When I found out he was joining the group, I was excited.”
The third man on the Pacific Division leaders’ top line, Johnny Gaudreau, attributes Lindholm’s point-per-game start and nine goals and 24.3 shooting percentage to a release that’s on and off his stick in half a second.
Lindholm says he’s emphasized release time over aim.
“I’m just trying to shoot it as fast as possible,” explains the 23-year-old. “Goalies are so good in this league, when you shoot it fast, usually that’s the key.”
Half a second might be an underestimate. Case in point:
I asked Flames coach Bill Peters about his influence in Lindholm following him from Carolina, and he brought up a mystery third team that was in the mix.
“Well, that trade was made at the draft,” Peters said. “I went to bed and there was a different team involved. I thought we were making a trade elsewhere. So when that trade came down, if I was a betting man, I would’ve lost a lot of money.
“They made the best trade they could and the trade they thought would benefit us the most, and I like the deal.”
Best guess on the other team in the mix: the St. Louis Blues.
6. Of all this season’s impending free agents, none carries a cap hit higher than Jason Spezza ($7.5 million).
The Dallas Stars centre was blunt Thursday when we asked how much a contract year is on his mind.
“Not when you’re 35. You don’t care about the contract years. To be honest, I could give two s—- if my contract is up. I just want to play the year, have a good year. I want to be back here next year,” Spezza said. “The money doesn’t matter. I just want to play and make sure I have a good role.”
When his current deal wraps, Spezza’s career earnings will have exceeded $89 million, according to CapFriendly.com, but you reach a point where silver trumps green.
“It’s different when you’re at this point in my career. I just want to be on a team that has a chance to win. So, no, I can’t say that’s once played into my mind. It’s different when you’re a 25-year-old and you’re looking for a deal that’s gonna set you up for life. That time has passed in my career. I’m just looking to play and be on a good team and have a good role and contribute,” Spezza went on.
“For me, it’s just about playing now. I’m not playing the game for the money. I can’t say I’ve ever played the game for the money. If you put the work into it, you get rewarded with big contracts. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever played the game for the money.”
7. Rookie defenceman Miro Heiskanen has entrenched himself in the Stars’ top-four as a teenager.
When Alexander Radulov fell injured, he was the first man up to join one of the league’s better first power-play units.
“I just can’t say enough about the kid,” coach Jim Montgomery says. “He skates effortlessly; he makes plays. Every game he seems to be getting better.”
Captain Jamie Benn notes the 2017 third-overall pick’s composure with the puck and his vision, calling him beyond his years.
Spezza is more expressive.
“Woo! He can play,” Spezza exclaims when I bring up the minutes hog. “His hockey IQ and skating ability together is special.
“He’s going to hide in Dallas for a few years, and nobody’s going to know what he’s up to. But then his numbers are going to speak for themselves and he’s going to blow people away, I think, with how good he’s going to be.”
Another Stars player coming into his own is Devin Shore, who’s lighting it up on the club’s up-north trip. His teammates are taken aback by his newfound confidence. Shore is winning more one-on-one battles, and Montgomery views him as a fixer he can jostle from line to line to help slumping forwards get going.
“He’s just a smart hockey player. I like the way he possesses. I like the way he has poise with the puck,” the coach says.
“He’s such great energy on the bench and says the right things. He’s kind of a glue guy that you can move anywhere in the top nine.”
8. Patrik Laine was not himself, and several contacts close to the Winnipeg Jets suggested it was the looming Global Series back in Finland, where he is a daddy and a deity, weighing on him. That the 20-year-old would be back to his sniping ways once the pressure of entertaining his homeland and giving a zillion interviews had been cleared off his slate.
In the week leading up to the Finland trip, Jets coach Paul Maurice had juggled him through all four lines to spark something, anything. Nothing worked, and it wasn’t just the scoring touch that had vanished.
It was the basics, and they were underscored by teammate Dustin Byfuglien barking at Laine to stop standing still on national TV:
Maurice finally found a spot for his young sniper by breaking up his go-to checking line. Laine joined Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev, bumping Andrew Copp to the fourth line.
Under “a level of pressure on him that most people would never feel,” Maurice said, Laine scored thrice in the Finnish opener against Florida Thursday, and again in Game 2 Friday.
“I don’t think you guys can even imagine how good that feels,” Hat Trick Laine said at the post-game podium. “I’ve been a pretty bad player. Getting rewarded like that, it was pretty awesome.”
“I’m just so happy for him and his family that he can have a night like this,” Maurice added. “Outstanding.”
Update: Don’t look now, but after his four-goal European vacation, Laine is now on pace for a 41-goal campaign.
9. Please, NHL decision-makers: Think long and hard about allowing Slava Voynov back into this great league.
Read Katie Strang’s excellent and thorough account of the facts around his domestic abuse case and consider the message you’ll be sending to young fans, female fans, male fans, all fans if Voynov is granted clearance to play for hockey’s greatest league again.
Ask yourself: Is it more important to uphold a basic principle than boost one club’s second D paring?
10. It took a year and a broken jaw, but Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic is finding his niche with his new squad.
Like so many career-oriented parents understand, Hamonic told me becoming a father has been instrumental in his being able to let go of his work worries once he walks through the front door after a hard game.
In an odd way, his baby girl has helped him get more sleep. He’s spending fewer nights lying awake, agonizing over missed assignments.
“As someone who thinks about the game, there’s a lot of plays you run over in your mind. Most of the time you replay the bad ones. As your career goes along and you’ve been around for a bit, you need to find a balance of watching your video, your clips—which I like to do—but also parking it a bit,” Hamonic explains.
“Coming home having a six-month-old daughter now, she’s waiting for you. It certainly makes it easier to compartmentalize it a bit so I can go home and just be a dad for that time.”
11. Quick-witted Tyler Seguin was asked this week about the NHL’s increasing openness to promoting players’ individual personalities.
“Oh, they’re doing that finally?” he quipped.
“We have a ways to go compared to other leagues, other sports, but guys are putting their foot forward. What P.K. [Subban] does I think is awesome. What [Auston] Matthews has been doing lately with the fashion and stuff has been great. I enjoy it. I’d like Connor McDavid to fall in love and marry some big-time celebrity. That’d be great for our game, too.”
By putting himself out there in film, commercials, goofy viral videos and (clothing-optional) magazine spreads, Seguin was once at the forefront of this NHLers-as-cool-characters movement, but even the age of 26, Seguin seems more concerned with winning right-side defensive-zone faceoffs and killing penalties at this point.
“Guys are stepping out of their comfort zone and showing more personality. I think that’s great for the game,” he says, passing the torch.
“I’ve done what I can in the past. I’m getting older now, trying to blend in.”
12. Call him Carlton the Scare Bear.
In a steady effort to improve their in-game experience, the Maple Leafs orchestrated a fun prank on its players with a blow-up version of their Carlton mascot that unexpectedly comes to life, frightening the beans out of innocent passersby.
The montage was debuted Monday at Scotiabank during intermission and went viral once tweeted out by the club. A fun trick results in our treat:
“That was terrible,” victim Travis Dermott says, twice, shaking his head and laughing.
“They got me so good on that one. They cut out a little of the clip. There might’ve been a couple more bleeps in there. That was a good one. I remember walking in before we went on the ice, and I saw him blown up there and he didn’t scare anyone. They were just setting it up. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s kinda cool. Kids must’ve been taking pictures with that. That’s awesome.’ Nope. They got me good. It was fun.”
Dermott singled out Kasperi Kapanen’s angry reaction as a favourite. We’re partial to Matthews’ high-tailed running and high-pitched screaming.
Last season, Matthews’ Fortnite habit killed a bunch of downtime. He’s since given up the video game and flipped to binge-watching Netflix, ripping through Riverdale and Stranger Things — although the latter series, wonderfully spooky in an ’80s PG-13 way, nearly gave the big kid nightmares.
“Stopped playing [Fortnite]. Got old, people got too good, and I was just getting murdered out there. It was no more fun for me,” Matthews said.
“I’ve been getting some good Netflix time in. I don’t watch the scary stuff. Stranger Things was a stretch for me there. There were a couple scenes in a couple episodes there that you go to bed thinking about stuff. I don’t like the scary stuff.”
Carlton drove that point home and turned it upside down.