A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. As you judge the quality of the content, kindly remember we accepted the league minimum just to join a contender.
1. Time for some conditional love.
Granted we’re only 10 days into this wild ride, but two startling early-season developments have brought a couple of nifty trade conditions top of mind.
These are crafty ways to mitigate the resulting damage from the ol’ adage that whoever gets the best player wins the trade.
Just as Pierre Dorion put himself in a sticky situation when he gave up an unprotected first-round draft pick to Colorado in the Matt Duchene trade, the Ottawa GM made certain to acquire an unprotected first-rounder from Doug Wilson in last fall’s Erik Karlsson blockbuster.
Dorion already made good on an extra second-rounder when Wilson re-signed Karlsson in June, in advance of free agency.
Now, the San Jose Sharks’ stumble out of the gates (a league-worst 1-4, with a minus-11 goal differential) reminds us that the 2020 first-round pick Ottawa received from Wilson by giving up its franchise D-man will not be protected by the lottery should the Sharks fail to make the post-season.
If you’re an Ottawa fan, you get to cheer for two teams: the Sens and whoever’s playing the Sharks tonight.
We rip the Sens when they do foolish things, so it’s right we give them praise when they do smart ones.
(After getting embarrassed by Wilson’s quick flip of Mike Hoffman to Florida, Dorion also demanded a pick if Karlsson ended up back in the Eastern Conference last season. A moot point now, but the GM learned his lesson.)
Yes, Brad Treliving needed grit and Neal was an ill fit with Bill Peters, but the Flames GM at least had a hunch The Real Steal had another impactful offensive campaign left in him, and thus hedged his bet.
Should the Oilers power-play threat record at least 21 goals this season (seven through four games is a healthy start) and Flames enforcer Milan Lucic (zero points) notch at least 10 fewer goals than Neal, Ken Holland will have to kick his 2020 third-round pick to Treliving. Hey, it’s something.
I appreciate these creative conditions attached to deals and hope to see more of them. They lessen the blow for the club surrendering the better player right now and increase the odds of winning the trade in hindsight.
“Ultimately, we worked our way to the deal because it has to work for both sides,” Oilers GM Ken Holland said at the time. “It can’t be a deal that’s one-sided; it has to be a deal that both feel good about.”
2. Mitchell Marner is on a gradual mission to dismiss the notion that he’s only an elite passer.
In an effort to get defenders and goaltenders to respect his shot, he’s using it more and more.
Marner’s shots and shot-attempt frequency have increased each season he’s been in the league. His shots have grown from 176 to 194 to 233, and now he’s on pace for 262. His attempts have grown from 325 to 399 to 446, and now he’s on pace for 459. His goal totals (19, 22, 26) have naturally followed suit.
It’s a conscious effort.
“I’m getting myself more into shooting spots on the ice, and I’m trying to obviously get the shot off quicker and be more of a goal scorer. That’s something I really worked on this summer—getting shots off quicker, getting in spots where you can be successful and score goals, and I’ve been happy with it so far,” Marner says.
“Just trying to beat last year’s [26 goals]—that’s really the goal.”
New Leafs assistant coach Paul McFarland has rejigged the power play to station Auston Matthews and Marner on their off wings, placing them in position to fire one-timers with their blades on the inside. Head coach Mike Babcock reasons if goaltenders are favouring established shooters Matthews to their left and John Tavares in the middle, Marner will have plenty of opportunities to get his shot off.
“If you can really shoot it, that’ll help you,” Babcock says.
Marner, accustomed to holding and thinking with the puck, admits the one-timer is foreign to him — but he’s working on it.
“I can’t model after Stammer, Kuch or Ovie,” he says. “I’m just trying to do what I do and see what happens with it.”
3. The more gifted shooter, Matthews’ newly unveiled 1T has already earned accolades from a master like Steven Stamkos.
“The other night he had that one-timer that looked pretty good to me,” Stamkos chuckled Thursday. “I think he has it. I think more guys have it in their bag; it’s just whether or not you feel comfortable. Ever since I was probably 13 years old, it was something I’ve focused on and had success.”
Despite making that weapon look effortless, Stamkos says he still pours energy before and after every practice one-timing cross-seam feeds. Ten thousand hours and counting.
“In today’s game, the goalies are so elite that you need to get the puck off quick,” Stamkos says. “I’ve found that’s a way you can score a lot of goals, by having that quick release.”
Tavares, who has known Stamkos since childhood, believes its Stamkos’s range that makes his one-timer so deadly.
“It doesn’t have to be the perfect pass or the right speed. It could be back foot, front foot. It can be hard or slow. He can be late catching up to it, he can be early. [Stamkos] just always has such a big window or target to get it off and be accurate,” Tavares explains.
“With Auston being able to get it off so quickly, which he can—it’s arguably the quickest in the game—it’s so difficult to stop and track. Even if it doesn’t go in, the goalie’s racing to get across and it causes confusion and good second and third opportunities because he can’t control where it’s going.”
Incredibly, Matthews never practised his 1T much until this summer, upon learning of McFarland’s new PP system. Matthews makes learning new tricks look easy, but he devoted hours to the one-timer over the off-season and knows his shot has a long way to go to reach the level of a Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin or Patrik Laine.
“It’s a lot harder of a shot than you really think of,” Matthews says. “It’s not easy. I think it’s all right. Still kind of getting a feel for it.
“Timing, that’s probably the biggest thing. And then accuracy. There are a lot of things going on with it.”
The Leafs’ power play is already humming along over 25 per cent. If Mrner and Matthews can roll out dual one-timers? Look out.
“He enjoys taking them,” Morgan Rielly says, “so he’ll keep it going.”
4. I chatted with Tampa defencemen Kevin Shattenkirk (one of the league’s more engaging conversationalists) about getting to spend quality time with both the Stamkos one-timer and the Ovechkin one-timer.
Neither star lets it loose at full volume during drills, though.
“Thank God, they don’t. Ovie was always keen on that: ‘I’m not shooting in practice,'” Shattenkirk chuckles. “It’s one of those things when you see the puck trickling over there, you’re like, ‘Here we go…’ You’re just waiting for the ping!
“They’re different releases. Stammer is able to get the shot off from a bunch of different areas. Ovie, his ability to catch it and snap it is lethal as well. In their own right, it’s amazing to watch two guys like that. You think to yourself, Why can’t I do that? You don’t know. It’s a mystery.”
More than one NHL goalie has mentioned that as frightening and effective as Ovechkin’s slap shot is, they doubt that even he knows where it’s going, wondering if he’s favouring power over precision.
“No,” Shattenkirk says. Ovie does actually place it where he wants to.
“That was one thing I recognized about him. He looks like he’s unleashing it and shooting to shoot, but he’s very accurate with what he’s doing. He knows where it’s going. The tricky thing about him is that curve. The curve on his stick is so big, it’s hard to read where it’s going. It could look like he’s shooting to that corner, but he’s got such a big curve that it pulls it. It’s a strange release, it really is. I’m happy I’m not a goalie.”
5. I had to ask Shattenkirk about Mika Zibanejad, a Week 1 gift to fantasy players.
When Zibanejad first joined the Blueshirts, he was almost a top-line centre by default. Now, as the engine between Artemi Panarin and Pavel Buchnevich, the 26-year-old Swede has grown into the role. He owns it.
Shattenkirk saw Zibanejad leap from a 37-point pivot to a 74-point threat. With a four-points-per-game jump out of the gate, the guy could be in for a phenomenal season.
The key, Shattenkirk says, was having two full years as the No. 1 centre secure in the knowledge that he could have poor outings, be a minus on the night, and not worry about losing his job.
The Rangers’ rebuild will be remembered for the guys traded away and youth acquired, but the patient development of a keeper like Zibanejad has been equally important.
“We weren’t going to put anyone else out there against the Sidney Crosbys and other top guys. You’re our guy. Mistakes happen, and you grow from there,” Shattenkirk explains.
“The way he thinks the game is spectacular. That’s something I really appreciated about him. The competitive drive to become that No. 1 centre was really born in him the last couple years I was there. Now getting a chance to play with another smart guy like Panarin is only going to do good things for him.”
6. “It was a pretty good trade.”
The Red Wings weren’t altogether sold on signing the 1998 sixth-rounder they’d drafted out of Russia when Anaheim presented an offer to make the Magic Man a Duck before he’d played a single game in North America.
Nill, now GM of Dallas, revealed this little nugget on an excellent edition of NHL’s Executive Suite podcast.
“We sat there and thought, What should we do? So we went and saw Pavel play a few times [in the KHL]. He didn’t do much,” Nill recalls.
He and then-Wings GM Ken Holland would take turns scouting their own prospect overseas, and were seriously considering the Ducks’ (undisclosed) offer.
“We were kinda on the bubble, and finally I went to a tournament to watch him, and he lit it up,” Nil said. “I remember calling Kenny and saying, ‘Kenny, I don’t think we should trade him. Better give him a chance.’ That’s when we signed him.”
Even then, Detroit and Datsyuk included an out clause in his contract. They could fly him back to Russia if they determined he was a bust by November.
Turns out, he was no bust.
7. When Blues GM Doug Armstrong re-signed prospective UFA Brayden Schenn to a hefty eight-year, $52-million extension, the deal was not only a load off of Schenn’s brain, it sent a message that rippled through the champs’ room.
“It just shows we’re for real again, we’re trying to win again,” Ryan O’Reilly told me.
“To get him locked up like that shows that we’re going to be good. It’s a relief for a lot of us. That can be tough when that’s on the mind the whole season. To get that out of the way, it says to all of us, ‘OK, yeah, we know this team is going to be together.’”
That Schenn, 28, has never hit 30 goals and only once exceeded 59 points has some critics questioning the size of his extension.
“He’s a key piece to our group. He kinda does everything well,” says O’Reilly, another example that offence isn’t everything you need in a forward.
“He’s got a good stick, but he’s very physical. He can make big hits but also finds ways to strip guys. He can separate a guy from the puck and make a quick play. He’s got all those tools on the ice. One of the most well-rounded players in the league because he can do everything — that’s why he’s so well-deserving of the contract.”
8. Auston Matthews explained the genesis of his basketball skills, which went viral last weekend upon the release of his being awarded the Raptors game ball.
“I played quite a bit growing up, some streetball. Nothing recreational, but I like to play with my neighbours and stuff. Basketball is my second-favourite sport, the second sport I follow the most,” said Matthews, who still shoots hoops in his neighbours’ driveway in Scottsdale.
“The spin on the ball, I got lucky. I don’t think I’ll be able to replicate that one again.”
After the Leafs’ second victory of the season, Matthews tossed the ball to Marner: “His handles aren’t quite as good.”
Marner won’t argue this point.
“I’m not a basketball guy at all. I run really fast up and down the court and try to lay it up. I try to play lockdown defence. That’s my game. I’m not too much a handles guy,” he admits.
“That ball from the Raptors and their NBA Championship series is something cool to have in our locker room. Everyone wants to win at the end of the year. Seeing them do it gets a lot of motivation and confidence in our squad. We want to be the next Toronto team to do that.”
Matthews, 6-foot-3, isn’t certain he could dunk the way teammate Morgan Rielly, 6-foot-1, did in a clip (below) that made the rounds over the summer.
“We’re skeptical that it was a full 10-foot hoop,” Matthews chides. “If it was, good for him, but we’re still kinda skeptical that it was a full 10 feet.”
Morgan Rielly looking ready for the primetime, @Raptors!
( IG/mollyohbrien) pic.twitter.com/7574Ue4yFV
— NHL (@NHL) August 31, 2019
9. Jordan Binnington‘s victory Monday, his first in Toronto, meant a little extra to a kid who grew up making the trek from Richmond Hill a couple times a year to root on his Maple Leafs in the same rink.
“Oh, yeah,” Binnington says. “Big CuJo guy.”
Way back in the day, Binnington says his minor hockey goalie partner was Curtis Joseph’s nephew, so he’d get to hang out at his idol’s house.
“He’s a very generous guy,” Binnington says.
Binnington had “50 or so” family and friends come out to watch him win his first “home” NHL game. Again, he rose to the occasion with a cool 32-save performance.
“You guys have written about 50 stories on him, about ice in his veins, right?” captain Alex Pietrangelo said post-game. “Nothing really seems to bother him.”
Does Binnington ever get tired of hearing about his icy veins? Nah.
“I like that quote,” he deadpans. “It’s a good one.”
10. Pietrangelo had himself an impressive outing that same night, registering his 400th career point while scoring a game-winner that pushed him past Al MacInnis for the most ever by a Blues defenceman.
“That’s pretty good company. He’s a pretty good player, huh?”
Funny thing about the goal, which came off a drawn-up play, is that Petro wouldn’t have been in position to sneak down the right lane and snipe it had St. Louis stuck with its original plan of letting new guy Justin Faulk play his natural right side.
“Faulker’s still trying to get in tune with all the plays that we run, so it’s a little bit easier if I just run the plays. I said, ‘I’ll go left side,’ and he said, ‘Well, you’re hot over there, so maybe just stay there.’ That’s why we rolled with it,” Pietrangelo explained.
“To do that in front of your family, it’s even better.”
Despite nearing 700 NHL games, the King City, Ont., native says that was his first time scoring in Toronto. He figures getting interviewed pre-game by older brother David, who works locally for City News, might’ve brought him some fortune.
“You can fly him in everywhere,” Alex quipped. “Maybe it’ll bring me good luck.”
11. Gritty stay doing Gritty things…
…and so does Lazlo Holmes.
"Six-foot-one, tons of fun."
— NHL (@NHL) October 10, 2019
“She didn’t know we were coming. Her mom didn’t know we were coming. It was a surprise for the whole family. Usually they let her mom know if we’re coming to visit,” Parayko says.
“Her reaction was one I’ll never forget. You can’t really put a price on that. It’s special. She’s been through a lot. She’s one of a kind. To be able to present that ring to her with Steener was something I’ll never forget.
“We had a connection last year, so as soon as I heard about the idea, I was all on board and pumped to do it. Steener has known the family for a few years as well, so for us to present it to her, it means a lot of us and for them. It goes both ways.”
Parayko describes the anticipation of diving into his own ring box as intense. He had accompanied some Blues teammates to the ESPYs and noticed a couple of New England Patriots wearing their championship rings. It got the wheels turning.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, honestly,” Parayko says, sounding like a kid on Christmas morning. “So when you open this box, it’s surreal. You’re like, ‘Holy cow. A Stanley Cup ring. This is legit.’ It was one of the coolest moments I had this summer — and I’ve had some good ones.
“That’s the first thing they want to see. It’s a cool piece to have. And we talked about bringing the team together like a ring, so it makes sense.”
He’s not sure whether to stuff all those diamonds in a bank deposit or keep it in a home safe.
“I want it to be accessible so if family or friends come over they get a chance to see it,” he says. “I’d like to share that.”