A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Alex Ovechkin scored four hat tricks in the time it took to pen this week’s column.
1. Will Kyle Dubas pull a Stan Bowman?
Surely, the temptation to spin bad luck into good business must be there, twitching in the back of the executive’s mind.
When Patrick Kane went on long-term injured reserve with a busted clavicle in February of 2015, Bowman went on a bit of spending spree at the trade deadline, knowing Kane would not be available until the post-season, when teams are free to hop over the salary cap.
Bowman rented defenceman Kimmo Timonen and forwards Antoine Vermette and Andrew Desjardins, bolstering his roster depth nicely. Kane returned in the post-season and those expensive Blackhawks captured a title.
The Maple Leafs are an injured goalie short of being able to not dress a full LTIR roster:
Yes, in a cap world, the rich can still carve ways to flex their financial might.
With all those ailing bodies, Dubas currently has $6.5 million worth of available cap space to spend on a defenceman prior to the trading deadline. That evaporates fast if Rielly’s foot heals early, and the whole gambit becomes moot if the Leafs — teetering on the playoff bubble — fail to make the dance.
But, as Bowman well knows, there is a risky, intriguing gamble that could pay off.
“It’s gonna really depend on Morgan, just because of the cap-space part of it, and then we could add a defenceman,” Dubas explained. “We would want someone to move the needle for us.”
Matt Dumba falls into that category. So does Josh Manson. Rentals Brenden Dillon, Ron Hainsey or Sami Vatanen not so much.
A right-shot Flames defenceman on an expiring deal — TJ Brodie or Travis Hamonic, whom Dubas kicked tires on over the summer — falls somewhere in between, although Mark Giordano’s injury likely decreases those odds.
“Unless it was the perfect deal, it would have to be something in the long run. It’s probably a long-term situation we want to address,” Dubas said.
“But it’ll depend on Morgan, as we get more updates on him in the coming weeks here, in terms of how long it’s going to be out that’ll dictate how much cap space we have going into the deadline.”
Certainly, it did not go unnoticed that Dubas kept his more precious trade chips — Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Alexander Kerfoot — away from Rob Blake.
Dubas should have a clearer picture on Rielly’s healing and the No. 1 D-man’s expected return date next weekend, but he refuses to use the club’s rash of injuries as a copout.
That he already spent to upgrade with Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford suggests he believes in this group, this season. Injuries be damned. Why not go all in and upgrade a battered, mediocre blue line?
“It’s unfortunate. You’d love to be able to have the full lineup, but I hate that excuse: ‘Well, they haven’t had a full lineup the whole year,’ ” Dubas said. “That’s why, if we don’t make it, that’ll be a failure on my end.”
2. Don’t rule out Dubas taking a run at re-signing Kyle Clifford.
The way Clifford speaks about the organization (big Mats Sundin fan from back in the day) and the way Dubas speaks about the player’s character, if the next few months go well, the winger might not just be a pure rental — something Dubas is hesitant to trading for in the first place.
“You’re paying for something, you’d rather be able to use it a little bit longer,” Dubas said after the trade.
Because Clifford is that rare player who can be depended upon for a solid bottom-six shift, enhances the leadership and maturity of a young room, and delivers that elusive sandpaper, why not?
At 29, how much of a raise over his current $1.9-million salary could he command?
“Those guys aren’t in abundance anymore,” Dubas said. “Other teams that have players like him, that do have some toughness and competitiveness but can also play and play well, the price is very, very high.
“You’d like to develop your own. The greater issue is that if you go to amateur and college and junior hockey, there’s a very, very scarce number of those players there as well. So it’s just not a common player that’s available these days, frankly.”
3. When Mitch Marner is ready for his next shift, which is almost immediately after Mitch Marner’s most recent shift, he’s not afraid to give the coaching staff a visual hint.
“He gives you a little look over his shoulder, wondering if he’s next or, if he’s not, ‘Why aren’t I?’ kind of thing. But those are the cues you look for from your players, especially your best guys,” Sheldon Keefe smiles.
“Because you’re trying to gauge, ‘Are they tired?’ Sometimes if they’re tired, they don’t want the next shift, they’re telling you by not giving you eye contact. I need a little bit more of a breather.
“When a player’s giving you the eyes, he’s telling you, ‘Don’t slow this down any more. Let’s keep ’er going.’”
Does Marner ever tire?
“It’s a great question, because it doesn’t appear that he does frankly,” said Keefe, who throws the winger out on both special teams.
Marner — the only member of the Big Four that kills penalties in addition to working the power plays — will tell assistant Paul McFarland he’s ready to hop the boards if he can’t catch Keefe’s glance.
Marner takes immense pride in his conditioning, and was asked the same question as Keefe: Does he ever get tired?
“It doesn’t feel like it sometimes,” Marner replied.
“I try and stay off it quite a bit. I usually have someone try and do it (for me). I’m not gonna say anything else about that, but I guess it’s cool. I mean, I don’t really try and focus on it too much,” said Marner, who makes a point of shutting off his phone an hour before settling in for his pre-game nap.
“Media can be good and bad, and Twitter is something that can be very good for people to try and bring eyes to something, and it can be very bad for people to try and bring other people down.”
4. The more you watch Alex Ovechkin and the more you talk to hockey people around him, the more you start to believe he’s going for the record.
“I don’t see any reason that he’s going to stop this quest to get as high as he can in the goal-scoring ranks. He enjoys coming to the rink,” his coach, Todd Reirden, said.
“The last two years have been the happiest I’ve seen him day in and day out. It’s no coincidence that his play has matched it, in terms of his consistency.
“He wants to get that goal-scoring number, but he wants to win again. He liked the taste of winning and how special it was for him to bring the Stanley Cup back to Russia as the first Russian-born captain. It’s an amazing accomplishment, and something that he’s driven by and wants to do again.”
Ovi didn’t rate on the PHWA’s top three in Hart Trophy voting at the Midseason Awards, but if he wins the goals race and leads his club to another divisional title, he must be considered.
5. The Arizona Coyotes — just another noodle in the tangled soup that is the Pacific Division race — are a rather pedestrian 8-10-3 since acquiring Taylor Hall.
But the UFA-to-be has pumped his individual production to nearly a point-per-game pace (19 in 21) since the trade.
I asked coach Rick Tocchet what he’s learned about Hall working with him that he wasn’t aware from afar.
“He’s a real hockey nerd. I didn’t know that. A real hockey nerd. He really wants to dissect the game and his game and watch video and wants information. I didn’t know he was that type of player, but he likes information. He wants to know things,” Tocchet replied.
The coach and star have sat down for a couple of one-on-one video sessions, even though Tocchet would never describe himself as a big film guy.
“He enjoys it. I’m not a coach who likes to overload video on guys. Sometimes I’ll make it mandatory; I’ll tell the guy I want to show it,” Tocchet said. “But he actually wants to do it, so that’s kinda cool.”
6. I had to ask Tocchet — who has been described as the Kessel Whisperer — if he has a theory as to why Iron Phil is on pace for his worst offensive showing (11-20-31) since he was a sophomore in Boston. (Not just because Kessel is killing my fantasy team but partly because Kessel is killing my fantasy team.)
“He was banged up early in the year — that kind of contributed (to the low production). I think sometimes you have different players you play with. We’re a little different than Pittsburgh; we have a little more grinding team. And I think once you start and don’t score and get some points, it kind of snowballs. He’s starting to play better for us. But there was a stretch, yeah, he was struggling,” Tocchet said.
Is the underwhelming output taking a mental toll on Kessel?
“You know what? I think if we weren’t where we are now (in the standings), if we were like last place, I think it’d be really hard,” Tocchet said. “But because we’re doing OK, it’s kind of helped his psyche that he’s contributed for us being where we are. If we were in last place, he’d really take a lot of the heat — for himself.”
7. Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno dropped the gloves with Vancouver’s Zack MacEwen, then dropped the Quote of the Week when conducting his post-game scrum all bloodied and scratched and flush:
“I didn’t feel anything, then I looked in the mirror and it looks like I fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.”
8. Stephen Johns pushed through 718 gruelling days between NHL goals, and he was emotional after getting back on the board Monday.
He thought he may never score again.
Johns said he didn’t know what goal song he’d choose. He joked that he’d pick a song called “Once in a While” if there was one. There is.
The Dallas defenceman’s perseverance is one of this season’s great under-the-radar feel-good stories. Listening to him talk about his parents in Section 104 is must-see TV:
A night I’ll never forget. Tried to hold in the emotions, but the only thing I could think of all night were my parents sitting in the crowd. If you know Ray & Noreen and their passion for traveling to watch me play for the last 20 years, you understand. https://t.co/KMMYUJHa9U
— Stephen Johns (@stjohns28) February 4, 2020
9. One of the most wide-eyed, happy-to-be-here invitees to the NHL’s all-star weekend was Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry, who made sure to get two sticks full of autographs — one from each conference. He’s also started a sweater collection from opponents.
As a cool gesture, Jarry had his old billet family around all weekend.
Ironically, the player Jarry was most excited to meet was the Capitals’ Braden Holtby, and he peppered the Penguins’ archrival with questions.
Funny dynamic here: Holtby is getting pushed for his job in Washington by a young buck (Ilya Samsonov) while Jarry’s acceleration is giving Matt Murray a run for his crease.
Since the break, Murray has received two starts (1-1-0) and Jarry one (1-0-0). The Penguins hardly have a clearcut Number 1, and with both goalies on expiring contracts and Casey DeSmith patiently waiting on the farm, GM Jim Rutherford has admitted it “certainly will be tricky and difficult” to keep both in the fold.
The spotlight doesn’t come naturally to Jarry.
“I’m usually the quiet one on the team. I don’t like too much attention,” Jarry says.
But his 47-game, .915-save-percentage campaign in Wilkes-Barre last year instilled in him the confidence to excel during an NHL playoff race.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” says Jarry, who discusses the craft with Murray regularly.
“Matt and I are good friends. We’ve been together since my first year in Wilkes-Barre. We’re easy to get along with, and we go to dinner every night. It’s nice to have someone that’s familiar with the process who you can go to and talk about those things.”
10. How’s this for a wonderful stat?
Since the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup parade, the great state of Kansas Missouri has enjoyed 30 per cent growth in minor-hockey enrolment for kids aged eight and under.
USA Hockey has tracked an uptick in youth participation in the sport every single fall in the state that the Cup champion plays. (That dates all the way to 1994, need we remind you that the most recent Canadian team championship occurred when Montreal hoisted the thing in ’93.)
11. Amid reports that he couldn’t find common ground with Capitals coach Todd Reirden, 303-game NHLer Dmitrij Jaskin left the NHL this past off-season at the tender age of 26.
Looking at the six-foot-two, 216-pound winger’s drop-off in 2018-19 for Washington — just two goals and six points in 37 games — one could imagine the Russian setting off for the KHL and playing out his remaining days.
But Jaskin’s bounce-back overseas should be re-grabbing the top league’s attention.
Now blessed with top-line minutes, the guy leads the KHL in goals (27) and is second only to Dynamo linemate Vadim Shipachyov in points (59) and plus/minus (plus-32).
Jaskin also leads the entire league in hits (159).
Considering Jaskin only inked a one-year deal in the K and becomes a free agent again this summer, it’s hard not to imagine a young, bruising winger like him at least getting a second look from the NHL.
Wonder if he gets another chance with a possession-first club.
12. The province of Alberta needs to etch this image on a commemorative coin and preserve it for all eternity. ASAP.