A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. They said we’d stop filing Quick Shifts with no hockey, but this week’s column marks a second threepeat.
1. The hockey world will be a little less fun without Dustin Byfuglien, who may come back as a free agent or may disappear quietly into the woods.
In a fun and educational hot stove with hockey nerds Patrick Kane, Mark Scheifele and Mathew Barzal Monday, both Scheifele and Kane named Byfuglien as the teammate they’d want on the bench for comic relief.
“He’s hilarious in the middle of games,” Kane smiled. “Especially when we were playing Winnipeg and he recently got traded there, he was coming by the bench, and him and [Coach] Quenneville would be chirping each other and laughing in the middle of an NHL game.”
“It’s gotta be him. He, by far, is the most relaxed guy in the game. No matter what’s going on, no matter how the game is going, he will definitely make a joke and get you going,” Scheifele said. “I could [always] hear from the other end of the bench him yelling at… someone. He could be yelling at a fan. Who knows? He’s always joking around.”
Lots of solid answers to some very specific questions during that Zoom, as three students of the game broke down how specific opponents excel (Shea Weber, Anders Lee, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Suter and Carey Price get some nice shoutouts).
Patrick Kane tugged on Blackhawks’ fans heartstrings (and, perhaps, Stan Bowman’s regret) when he was asked to name the dream player to be on a 2-on-1 with — no teammates allowed.
“I’d probably have to say [Artemi] Panarin. I know I played with him a couple years, but the way he sees the game and the way he plays it is very similar to how I saw the game,” Kane said. “Just really, really fun hockey, you know. Just playing off each other, hanging out on our sides. Almost like mirroring each other. That was probably the funnest hockey that I’ve ever played was playing with him. Coming down on a 2-on-1, throw him a little saucer pass, and he’s gonna bang it in the net most of the time.”
2. Brad Marchand executed a masterclass in public speaking from the privacy of his own home Thursday.
The focal point of a townhall for Bruins season ticket holders, the man voted by his peers as both the best and worst trash-talker was, by turns, candid, insightful, funny, analytical and encouraging as he fielded a range of questions from young and old.
He touched on Seth Jones’ excellence and Martin St. Louis’ inspiration. He explained why he’d never chirp Patrice Bergeron (“I don’t bite the hand that feeds me”) or wish to quarantine with Tuukka Rask (“We’d just be hammered together the whole time, and it’d be his fault”). He figured he’d be involved in the hunting industry if he weren’t a hockey player, and ran down some of the flicks he’s been watching (Polar Express, Cat in the Hat, The Grinch).
And, just a few days after Team Canada teammate Drew Doughty spoke about how the 2016 World Cup left him sore all season, Marchand explained how integral that tournament was to his self-belief.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is being part of the World Cup team with Canada. It kind of put me on a different level, a different calibre of player,” Marchand said.
“Before that, I never really thought I could play with guys that were on that team. I never put myself in the same category as anybody on that team. Coming out of that, I felt a lot more confident about my abilities and my game and where I could play in the league, and it just kind of elevated from there.”
Marchand was asked to detail his thought process as he bursts down the left wing and tries to beat a defender to the inside (watch an example below). The hockey nerd in me eats this stuff up:
“The first thing is, I try to get his body lined up with my body. If I can get his body in front of me, then I know that if I get puck inside that I’m going to have a chance to slip around him. But if I’m coming down the wall and he’s still inside of me, it’s a lot more difficult. Because even if I pull that puck, I’m just pulling my body into his body,” Marchand explained.
“Second thing is, as soon as I look for him to move his stick, a lot of defencemen will keep it out, try to force you down the wall. As soon as he pulls it to the wall or tries to pull into my puck, or he turns his body to me, then I’m pulling inside. So, I’m kind of waiting for him to make the first move. So, I’m trying to line my body up with him. And then as soon as I see a crossover or his stick come inside, that’s when I know that all I need is one step and I’m gonna get inside.”
Finally, Marchand considered what it would feel like to have a league-leading, 44-14-12 season wiped away without so much as a sniff at the Stanley Cup.
“The toughest part is that years like this don’t come around very often. I mean, it’s taken us a long time to build to where we are now and be the team we are. We would’ve loved to see how that would play out, but there’s a lot of teams in that same position right now. There’s a lot of good teams that were contenders this year,” Marchand said.
“But I think we’re all more concerned about people’s lives that are at stake right now.”
If the 2019-20 season somehow does resume after a lengthy layoff, Marchand singled out the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs as teams that may benefit.
He believes the long break and a sudden return will better serve youth and high skill, and it’s the veteran-laden teams that will have a harder time getting rolling.
“I honestly think the teams that are gonna come back and look good are the really young teams like Toronto, Tampa, just really high-end skill teams,” he said. “Because they’re just going to have the legs. Older teams are really going to struggle.”
Boston, with an average age of 29.1, is the oldest club in the East.
3. As the hockey world grasps for fresh content angles, I loved Alex Killorn’s “Dock Talk” interview series. The Lightning forward hopped on his Jet Ski and threw fan-generated questions at teammates Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Ryan McDonagh — at waterside.
Fun stuff with some candid answers.
Stamkos, the most recent player to reach the 60-goal mark (2011-12), bets Auston Matthews will be the next one to do it.
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Bonus Lightning note: Braydon Coburn is that guy in the team group chat who Photoshops guys’ heads onto hilarious bodies and popular memes. Killorn, Tyler Johnson and Mikhail Sergachev are his favourite targets. You may also have a friend like this.
4. Kris Letang didn’t hesitate when asked which Penguins teammate he keeps in touch with most frequently during lockdown: “Sid, for sure. I think I’ve talked to him every two days.”
The stay-at-home dad believes this multi-month delay will level the playing field if the season resumes in the summer, which might be a positive for a Pittsburgh group that lost eight of its past 11 and will indeed have Jake Guentzel ready to go.
“Momentum won’t carry for anyone,” said Letang, who believes the eight-seeds could be primed to knock off the one-seeds. “Everyone will start back at square one.”
Letang was asked point-blank to pick the Penguins’ biggest rival: Capitals or Flyers?
“Caps,” Letang replied, without a blink. The Philly hate was stronger before the current core grew into its own. “Knowing that Sid and Ovi was kinda the two players that came into the league almost at the same time to take over built the Caps-Pens rivalry. In the long run, it’s Caps-Pens.”
5. On an NHL-hosted, all-coaches Zoom call with Joel Quenneville, Barry Trotz and Dave Tippett, the three minds all agreed that if a game goes to a shootout, you want to be the team that shoots first.
“Get the lead, it’s a big advantage,” Coach Q said.
6. Live by faith not by sight.
Those are the words inscribed in a bold, typewritten font across Brandon Carlo’s right forearm.
With a pandemic pressing and a dear friend, Colby Cave, taken too soon, the Bruins defenceman has leaned on a belief in something greater.
“To a point, I feel like God might be telling us to slow down in life,” Carlo said on a Zoom call. “I have it tattooed on my body for a reason. It’s something I truly believe, something I’ve been trying to focus on living by each and every day.”
Team chaplain Dave Ripper had been running pre-practice Bible study and discussion sessions with interested players long before the pause, and the chapel group has intensified in respect to these troubling events.
David Backes, Kevan Miller, Torey Krug, Chris Wagner, Charlie McAvoy and Adam McQuaid are among those joining Carlo.
“It’s pretty awesome to be able to connect in this time,” Carlo said. “You never know what people are going through in life.
“There’s a lot of people feeling a little bit more lonely at this time,” he continued, noting how he appreciated a recent phone call from Zdeno Chara, just to chat.
“Being a part of this team, it’s the light of my life going into the locker room and being able to smile and laugh with the guys. It’s something so special. It’s unlike something I’ve ever felt. It’s like having 30 brothers with you every day. I definitely miss those moments.”
Carlo is D partners with Krug, an impending free agent he doesn’t want to leave.
“I’ve made jokes throughout the entire year that he better not leave me. I recognize this game has a lot of uncertainty with contract negotiations,” Carlo said. Then he drew back to the mantra inked into his skin.
“But overall I have the faith that he’s an important piece to Boston. If it’s meant to be and it’s in his path, then God will handle it.”
7. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the next salary cap — and big-raise hunters like Zach Hyman figuring he’s “lucky” that his UFA status doesn’t kick in until 2021 — it was interesting to learn Taylor Hall’s perspective.
Hall is the most coveted impending UFA of 2020, but with all 31 team owners readying to absorb a financial blow of unknown proportions, his suitors and their offers could shrink.
We’ve wondered if a tightened cap would urge more free agents to take short-term deals, with an eye toward signing a home-run, long-term contract once the economy recovers.
That strategy doesn’t interest Hall, who admits that platform pressure may have hindered his game.
At the pause, Hall has amassed 16 goals, 54 points and a minus-14 rating — underwhelming numbers for a guy who exploded for 39 goals and 93 points and a plus-14 rating during his Hart campaign in 2017-18, his last healthy season.
“I don’t really want to play through a contract year again,” Hall told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun. “Whether it was the reason I had an off year or not, I’d rather get some security and try and sign a longer-term deal.”
8. While you were tweeting about Carole Baskin’s missing husband, Doug Armstrong was putting in work.
Behaving like the off-season frenzy is in full swing, the St. Louis Blues GM extended two RFAs (Sammy Blais, Mackenzie MacEachern) and one UFA (Marco Scandella) in a span of less than 72 hours.
Some fast thoughts on the Scandella signing:
• The Blues now have five NHL-level defencemen under contract for 2020-21 and have committed roughly $71 million of their cap space. Not a ton of wiggle room to squeeze in RFAs Vince Dunn and Jacob De La Rose, plus the biggie — UFA Alex Pietrangelo.
• Jay Bouwmeester, another UFA, probably won’t be back on the left side. His concerns are greater than hockey anyway.
• Armstrong appreciates how Scandella’s game complements that of righty partner Colton Parayko.
• As a lefty, Scandella’s extension doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be one for Pietrangelo, a righty. The deal will help bring into focus how much cap space remains to squeeze in the captain and Dunn. The latter doesn’t have arbitration rights; a bridge makes the most sense.
• Marc Bergevin’s win just got bigger (which is something he may have needed around the 20th anniversary of throwing the puck into his own net). The Montreal GM acquired Scandella for a fourth-rounder and, upon his St. Louis signing, has now flipped him for a second- plus a fourth-rounder. This was a rental for a post-season that might not take place.
9. Last week, it was a 25-year-old, undrafted, sought-after KHL free agent, forward Alexander Barabanov, deciding to join the NHL, signing with the Maple Leafs.
This week it was another 25-year-old, undrafted, sought-after KHL free agent, forward Konstantin Okulov, deciding to stay put, signing a one-year extension with CSKA Moscow.
As reported by Chris Johnston way back in October, the Leafs and Canadiens were both interested in bringing the late bloomer to this side of the Atlantic.
That Okulov re-upped for just one season in these unstable times is significant — employment security and peace of mind, hockey player or not, is a priority.
And there’s no reason to believe the Habs (and other NHL clubs) won’t keep an eye on him for 2021-22.
A shifty scorer who flies at top gear, Okulov set career highs in assists (21) and points (38) this past season, and his points per game has steadily increased in each of his seven KHL seasons (up to 0.7 in 2019-20). Why can’t he keep improving?
10. On Jackie Robinson Day, Bill Peters found his second chance, signing on as bench boss of the KHL’s Yekaterinburg Avtomobilist.
The coach resigned from the Calgary Flames in November during an investigation into the racial epithets he spewed at Akim Aliu during their time with the Rockford IceHogs. Aliu took the high road in his response (see below).
Beyond the Peters hiring, it should be a compelling off-season for Avtomobilist when it comes to their free agents.
One is Pavel Datsyuk, whose relationship with Peters dates back to their Red Wings days and will be 42 when the 2020-21 season begins.
The Magic Man put up 22 points in 43 games for Yekaterinburg in 2019-20 and reportedly played a role in recruiting his former assistant coach to his current club.
“Datsyuk is there. He knows Bill, and in some way he played a role in orchestrating this,” Perry Pearn, Peters’ new assistant in the KHL, told Postmedia. “When I talked to Bill, it sounded like Datsyuk was going to play again, but I don’t know that for sure.”
Datsyuk’s agent, Dan Milstein, informed me Friday that Datsyuk “is considering all options” and that, no, Datsyuk did not speak with Peters prior to Thursday’s hiring announcement.
“Now it’s up to Pavel,” Peters said on a conference call, “but any time you have someone at that level it’s great for the game. We’d love to see him be a part of it, but that’s a decision that he’ll have to make. If his health is good and his mind is right, then he’ll play.”
Yekaterinburg’s Nigel Dawes, a Canadian of Jamaican descent, also needs a contract. The 35-year-old is back home in Winnipeg, future up in the air.
A KHL star for nine years running, Dawes is Yekaterinburg’s reigning captain and leading scorer.
11. If something is good enough for Sidney Crosby, then it’s good enough for me. Upon hearing Crosby’s endorsement, plus some co-signs from trusted friends, I’ve dived into Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive and found it a fun antidote for my sports withdrawal.
Because I’m the furthest thing from a “car guy” (the first automobile I purchased was my loving grandma’s old greige Mercury Sable, with no family discount) and know nothing of the race results, the only spoilers are on the backs of the vehicles (hey-oh!). A whole new realm of rivalry, free agency, teamwork and competition has opened up.
Also fueling my sports fix: watching classic flicks with my nine-year-old son. This week we had long, healthy debates over what was better — The Natural, Rudy, or Miracle. I wept like a baby during the climax of all three.
This weekend I’ll be using The Last Dance to convince the young lad that LeBron James is the second-best basketball player to ever live.
12. Our hearts break for Colby Cave and his family and his friends.
Our hearts warm with all the wonderful anecdotes, recollections, tributes and fund-raising efforts that have sprung out of this tragedy.
This scene is beautiful, Bakersfield…
This moment started with:
“Your hair is red too?!?”
— Bakersfield Condors (@Condors) April 11, 2020