A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. Just because the chief of Canadian Tire wasn’t pitching John Tavares on Toronto during his free agency interview period doesn’t mean the Maple Leafs star hasn’t seen endorsement deals multiply with his move out of New York, where the Islanders play second fiddle to the Henrik Lundqvist and Rangers — and, in publicity terms, hockey plays fourth fiddle behind the city’s other major sports franchises.
You try going head-to-head with Derek Jeter for endorsement dollars.
In recent weeks, Tavares has lent his name and likeness to promotions for Rogers Ignite and Casper mattresses. (Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner, too, have seen a bump in off-ice exposure. And now Zach Hyman is doing radio ad reads.)
“We know what the Maple Leafs mean to the city, the history here and how much people in Toronto love the game of hockey. Throughout Canada, really. So there’s a connection there,” Tavares explains.
“They just had me lying in a bed, so it wasn’t very taxing at all. When they showed me what they were going for, it gave me a good chuckle. I thought it relates really well for an athlete, the importance of sleep and getting a good night’s rest.”
The Zamboni driver steals the Casper spot, but it’s a clever little clip that plays off Tavares’s all-hockey, no-nonsense persona. (Sadly, Tavares did not wear his Leafs PJs for the ad.)
While he has a history of tweeting out support for various brands to his 209,000 followers, Tavares told me he wasn’t getting nearly as many requests to shoot commercials during his nine years on the Island as he has in his five months as a Leaf.
“For whatever reason, I’ve had a few of those opportunities come my way since coming here,” he says.
“What’s important is aligning myself with things that are authentic to me, that represent who I am. I’m not trying to do too much, but just what I feel is the right opportunity and something that makes sense.”
That money left on the table? It could arrive from different sources.
2. Patrick Marleau could build an inukshuk with all the milestones he’s piling up. A couple weeks back, the Maple Leafs winger became just the 11th NHLer to play 1,600 games, and on Thursday he surpassed Jay Bouwmeester and moved into sole possession of the seventh-longest ironman streak.
Marleau will skate in his 739th consecutive game Saturday in Florida, dating back to April 9, 2009, and is neck-and-neck with the longest active ironman (and sixth overall), 32-year-old Florida defenceman Keith Yandle, who hasn’t missed a game in nine-plus seasons and played 84 games in 2014-15 like sleep is the cousin of death.
“He’s a machine. He really is a machine,” says Marleau’s friend and longtime teal teammate, Joe Thornton. “It really is a feat. And without those lockouts, [Marleau’s games played total] would be even higher. He takes cares of himself. Just a true professional.”
Since Marleau made the decision to leave San Jose, he and Jumbo have remained in regular contact but not so much about hockey.
“We really don’t talk about it to be honest with you,” Thornton says. “We just talk about family and stuff like that. The good stuff.”
Marleau says he stretches more than he used to, and he also makes a point to arrive earlier at the rink – a habit he picked up from Big Joe when the two were roommates.
“He’s a linebacker on skates,” marvels former coach Peter DeBoer. “He’s physically so gifted, with his skating ability but also his body. He’s a big, heavy, strong guy. People don’t realize how big a man he is, how powerful he is. He doesn’t shy away from getting into corners and doing dirty work too, which makes it all that more impressive. It’s not like he’s a perimeter player who’s gone that many games without getting injured.
“I’m a big fan. Everyone in Toronto is starting to get an appreciation for what people in San Jose have seen for over a decade. It’s a great accomplishment.”
In the coming weeks, Marleau will pass Ray Bourque and Larry Murphy on the all-time games played list. He needs 37 more games to pass Craig Ramsay, next on the ironman hitlist.
3. At some point, William Nylander will be promoted back to Auston Matthews’ right wing.
While he’s yet to show flashes of Peak Willy and is still looking for his first goal through four games, the newly rich young man has already amassed the best underlying possession numbers among Leafs skaters (tiny sample size, granted). Nylander excels at zone exits and entries.
What will be interesting is how head coach Mike Babcock juggles the left wing piece around the Nylander-Matthews duo. The Patrick Marleau experiment looked better on paper than in reality.
Although Kasperi Kapanen also plays the right side, we’d like to see him try skating on the off wing when Nylander gets bumped up.
Marleau and Kadri can take advantage of third-line matchups and excel in defensive situations.
Since being promoted to the top six on Oct. 7 in Chicago, when he replaced Tyler Ennis, Kapanen has put up 12 goals and 22 points in 30 games — and Matthews is a fan.
“Especially Kappy joining us a couple games in, we all had some good chemistry. We all bring some different things to the table. All of us want to play fast and use each other as much as possible and play in the offensive zone,” Matthews said.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s got the puck on his stick all the time. I think people don’t know how fast he really is until he’s blowing right by you. Everybody’s seen that now. They respect his speed, so that gives him and us as linemates more time and space.”
Babcock won’t tip his hand, but he has plenty of time to tinker with the ideal lineup.
“The beauty of it as you get more depth, you can move people around,” Babcock said.
Let’s see what Kapanen-Matthews-Nylander can do, with flyin’ Finn as the first man on the forecheck. Y’know, before they trade him.
4. Whether he meant to or not, Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon publicly stripped GM Don Waddell of any presumed decision-making power this week.
“We won’t be drafting defence in the first round as long as I’m here,” Dundon said during a public speaking appearance sponsored by Triangle Business Journal. “I’ve got to have more offence. I want to lose 5-4, not 2-1. If we lose 5-4, I’ll have fun at least.”
The Hurricanes promptly lost their next two games 6-4 to the Canadiens and 6-5 to the Capitals. Double the fun!
It’s no secret Carolina had been stockpiling on elite blueline prospects up until the last two drafts, when they used their first picks on Martin Necas (2017) and Andrei Svechnikov (2018).
The pattern is the inverse of the high-flying Maple Leafs, with whom Waddell made no secret his interest in William Nylander. The difference is, while the offence-heavy Leafs started taking D-men with their first-round picks after 2016 (Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin) to address an organizational need, they didn’t broadcast it with such a handcuffing blanket rule.
Toss in the fact Carolina traded away Elias Lindholm (16 goals) and Jeff Skinner (22 goals) this summer and is now hunting for “a sniper”? Not a good look.
The Hurricanes’ highest goal-getter is Michael Ferlund with 11. Fifty-six players have more goals than Carolina’s best shooter.
Yes, we criticize, but part of us loves Dundon’s aggression. He has the Hurricanes wearing red on the road because he doesn’t like the white unis, and he’s bringing back “Brass Bonanza” and Whalers throwbacks.
Good or bad, the man disrupts.
5. Every single one of Matt Dumba’s 12 goals — the most among all defencemen this season — has come on the power play.
Mama bear sent this to me after the game last night… scored my 11th goal at 11:11 on December 11 my Grandma Roses birthday. Miss you Grandma lookin down on me pic.twitter.com/F9UIPXVCGE
— Matt Dumba (@matt_dumba) December 12, 2018
6. It’s difficult to overstate the challenge the Bruins have faced with Patrice Bergeron (and Zdeno Chara) out of their lineup. The twin leaders of that group have started working out with skating and skills coach Kim Brandvold. Bruce Cassidy is hopeful they can return to practice next week.
The coach has tried three different replacements at No. 1 centre between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, but the void goes beyond that.
Bergeron’s absence affects both special teams and subtracts all those automatic face-off wins.
“When Bergy’s in the lineup, we start with the puck all the time,” Cassidy said. “Your PK becomes more goaltender-reliant.
“If we’re talking about options on the power play, he’s one of the first. How teams defend when Bergy’s in the lineup, they overplay it.
“He creates anxiety.”
Cassidy — an excellent quote when it comes to the details of the game — has noticed the opposition attacking the Bruins more since Bergeron’s injury and taking more physical liberties on young players.
There are silver linings here, as Boston slips to fourth in a heated divisional race. The Bruins are discovering if they have real players in centres Colby Cave and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson.
“It forces you to deal with adversity,” Jake DeBrusk adds. “Especially this early in the year with how many new faces, I think its good for us — especially if we can come out on top.
“Any time you back’s against the wall, it helps. It shows your true character.”
7. Bruins rookie Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, naturally, goes by simply JFK.
My favourite unintentionally deep quote of the year came from Cassidy ahead of the kid’s initial call-up:
“It’s a bit of an unknown with JFK.”
8. As George McPhee remembers it, the Vegas Golden Knights were awarded an expansion franchise on a Wednesday, he sent his resume to owner Bill Foley on Friday, Foley called him on Sunday, the two met on Tuesday, and the ball was soon in motion.
The Seattle SomethingOrOthers, apparently, have more time and aren’t acting as quickly to put a GM in place, although they do have a list of a dozen or so candidates.
McPhee’s first order of business was to find the best people for each position — ticketing, scouts, coach, everything. Speaking at a recent sports management conference, McPhee said he sought hardworking candidates with zero ego.
The second order of business? Instilling a winning, positive culture from the top down.
“I consider it to be an invisible difference-maker and the ultimate competitive advantage: The teams with the best culture prevail more often than not,” said McPhee, who spent time around several MLB and NFL organizations to take notes on best practices.
“You know soon why they’re winning or why they’re losing.”
9. When it came to preparing for the expansion draft — which he knocked out of the park — McPhee soon realized that weeding out the best selection from each of the 30 clubs was too cumbersome a task for one man to handle properly.
McPhee took 15 teams and charged assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon (a Seattle candidate, no?) with the other half.
Between the two execs, they pinpointed 10 teams that would need to do a side deal with Vegas or risk losing a coveted asset. Nine of the 10 were in.
McPhee slapped a condition on these “secret deals,” however, telling the opposing GMs: “If you do something before the expansion draft, the deal is off.”
To McPhee’s surprise, they all kept mum.
“It really had the effect of freezing the market. Nothing happened. Tampa [dealing Jonathan Drouin to Montreal for Mikhail Sergachev] was the only trade that happened,” said
Keyser Söze McPhee, still sounding surprised at what he pulled off.
“I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. There was a lot of tension and stress two days before the expansion draft because we were waiting for all these other things to happen — and they didn’t. We woke up the morning of the expansion draft and said, ‘Wow, nothing happened.’ ”
10. One more note from McPhee that I hadn’t heard.
Regarding 2017’s mass shooting from the Mandalay Bay, McPhee said the Knights had played an exhibition game that night, Oct. 1, and were lucky the contest had been scheduled for a rare 5 p.m. start. A 7 p.m. puck drop would’ve taken the team and its fans right by the hotel at the time of the shooting.
“I’ve been too close to two of these now — one in Washington on 9/11 and this one. I don’t want to get political, but there’s lots of things that should be done, I believe,” McPhee said. “It’s a devastating thing to go through.”
11. Attention: Quebec and Houston.
At least one NHL owner on the executive committee finds it hard to envision further expansion. If a new city is to secure a team, he believes relocation is much more likely.
“I don’t see the league expanding beyond 32 teams,” he said. “I have a hard time imagining that.”
12. Makes sense that the swashbuckling Washington Capitals were Google’s most trending NHL team among U.S. searches in 2018.
In Canada, however, the most Googled NHL team was the Winnipeg Jets. The most searched-for hockey players were William Nylander and John Tavares (and you thought all those Sportsnet articles were an accident).
The Humboldt Broncos, of course, ranked near the top among the most Googled news searches nationwide.