Quick Shifts: Maple Leafs’ Marner and the great all-star snub

We take a look at the some of the best contracts for teams around the NHL.

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 Toronto Maple Leafs traded for Michael Hutchinson as soon as the freeze thawed doesn’t mean they’re done shopping at the goalie market.

That GM Kyle Dubas was already searching for depth at the position before No. 1 Frederik Andersen stepped aside to rehab a lingering groin issue and a William Nylander practice shot accidentally gave No. 2 Garret Sparks a concussion means the organization is once again considering its goaltending trade options.

Part of that is to strengthen the Andersen insurance policy; part of it is to make the AHL Marlies more competitive.

On Thursday, undrafted 25-year-old prospect Kasimir Kaskisuo was recalled to back up for the second time, and he’s yet to prove himself as an AHL-calibre starter (.866 save percentage). In a perfect world, Kaskisuo might be gaining confidence in ECHL St. John’s.

Seeing depth options Mike McKenna and Jared Coreau change teams (again) this week reinforces how eager clubs are to bolster the most important position on the ice.

Calgary would like to upgrade too, but the shelves are pretty bare.

“Well, there’s no tree. You’d like to have a tree in your backyard and just be able to pick ’em off,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ll see what happens.”

A few aging veterans on bad teams could likely be pried away — Ottawa’s Craig Anderson, L.A.’s Jonathan Quick, Chicago’s Corey Crawford — but they come with injury concerns and cumbersome, risk-laden contracts.

Realistically, there are two NHL-calibre goalies we could see fetching a decent return on the rental market — and Babcock knows both well.

All-Star rep Jimmy Howard and the Detroit Red Wings reportedly have mutual interest in a multi-year extension, but the Penguins and Blues were rumoured to have poked around earlier this season.

If GM Ken Holland can fetch a high pick or decent prospect for the best goalie available, why not make that deal?

Detroit could still theoretically bring Howard back on July 1.

Carolina’s Curtis McElhinney (8-5, .924 save percentage), whom the Leafs waived in favour of Sparks after training camp, is the other enticing option.

In Toronto, that would require consuming some humble pie. In Calgary, it would see the journeyman’s NHL journey come full circle; the Flames drafted McElhinney as a sixth-rounder back in 2006.

The Hurricanes aren’t contending. They would be wise to flip the pure No. 2 and count him as found money.

2. Sparks won the award for the farm system’s top goaltender last season, posting a .936 save percentage.

Right on his tail? Hutchinson at .935.

“We had a good battle for top numbers,” Hutchinson says. “I was fortunate enough that I didn’t play a ton of games in the American Hockey League last year, but I think four or five of my games were against the Marlies, so I got to battle him head-to-head. Those were always fun games.”

Sparks agrees.

“We were neck-and-neck in the AHL last year, so I know he’s a good goalie and I know he’s gonna help this team, and we’re happy to have him here,” Sparks said after learning of the trade.

Hutchinson and Sparks first met a couple summers ago training in Toronto and had a chance to catch up Friday as two teammates who’d love to secure the No. 2 job with the Leafs.

“It’s amazing. The hockey world is small. The goalie world is even smaller. You know everyone somehow,” Hutchinson says. “It’s all part of being a team. The main goal is the Stanley Cup. Any wins I can get just puts this team closer to making the playoffs. At the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters.”

3. Fascinating conundrum for the Vegas Golden Knights this week.

Hard to believe a franchise less than a season-and-a-half old is having an issue with its surplus of depth, but with AHL call-up Brandon Pirri exploding for six goals, nine points and a plus-9 rating in just seven games and the Knights needing to clear a roster spot Friday for the now-healthy Max Pacioretty, GM George McPhee sent Pirri back to AHL Chicago.

Why? Because he didn’t need waivers until the 10-game mark. (He’d already cleared immediately after training camp.)

Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Nosek and recently acquired Valentin Zykov all get to stay. The Knights want time to assess what they have in prospect Zykov, whose arrival from Edmonton was delayed due to visa paperwork.

Poor Pirri was already killing it in the minor leagues (41 points in 28 games) and scored thrice in his only two games with the Knights last season. Dude belongs in the NHL.

Because his demotion has nothing to do with merit and everything to do with business, the Knights were smart to release a video with assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon explaining the situation to their (mostly new) fans.

“We will have him back here,” McCrimmon promised, “so I think he’s got some comfort in that.”

4. This is how I feel every time I play Simon Says…

5. Of the NHL’s top 20 scorers, only three skaters were left off both the announced All-Star Game rosters and the Last Men In fan ballot: Toronto’s Mitch Marner and Calgary’s Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm.

The Leafs (Morgan Rielly) and Flames (Mark Giordano) each had defencemen listed on the Last Men In card instead.

If his production (55 points, more than any other “snub”) isn’t enough, Marner’s on-ice creativity, fun-loving energy and embrace of young fans suit him perfectly to the 3-on-3 schmoozefest.

Toronto’s John Tavares and Auston Matthews, who are going, each vouched for Marner’s inclusion.

“Especially with our group, there’s no question there probably should be a couple more guys that should be there,” Tavares said. “I feel very fortunate, and it should be a lot of fun.”

Matthews was surprised Marner was excluded. Ditto Rielly, who leads all D-men in scoring.

“The way it’s set up, a lot of really good players get left off the list,” Matthews said. “Having missed the time I did, seeing those three guys, the way they played – Johnny, Mitch and Mo – I think I’d give up my spot for them any day of the week because they’ve had unbelievable seasons.”

Should the NHL expand the guest list?

“Maybe. Or…” Matthews paused. “I guess somebody from every team’s gotta go. When it’s like that and limited spots, a lot of very, very deserving guys get left off, like you’ve seen. Not just on this team but on others as well.”

Marner downplayed his disappointment, but when given the option to dismiss all-star weekend as a hindrance to vacation time, he stuck up for the showcase.

“It’s always a cool event. As a kid growing up, it’s always something you think would be cool to be at, but as I said, y’know, stuff happens,” Marner said.

“There’s bigger things in the world to think about than that.”

6. Leafs Nation rolls deep, so we like Rielly’s chances of being Last Man In the Atlantic, but his competition is thick (Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Skinner, Mark Stone, Brayden Point, Aleksander Barkov, Dylan Larkin and Shea Weber).

“It’s cool. I think it’s a week-long opening, so we’ll see what happens. I mean, the most important stuff is here in Toronto,” Rielly said. “All of that stuff is cool. It’d be fun.”

So, do you think your teammates are logging on and stuffing the ballot box for you?

“I doubt it,” Rielly deadpanned. “They’re probably voting for the other people.”

7. I tumbled down an all-star game rabbit hole and realized there has been a bizarre NHL All-Star MVP curse in place for the past decade.

Since Eric Staal in 2008, no player named Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game has been invited back to participate in the weekend the following year.

Alexei Kovalev, Patrick Sharp, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Johansen, John Scott, and Wayne Simmonds have all carried on this dubious tradition.

That weird streak will continue this year if Vancouver’s Brock Boeser, who won the car in ’18, isn’t voted in by fans on the Pacific Division’s “Last Men In” ballot.

P.S. I realize this note is probably only of interest to me and the Boesers’ travel agent.

8. Michael Frolik’s agent, Allan Walsh, doubled down on throwing Twitter shade at how the Calgary Flames (i.e. head coach Bill Peters) are deploying his client:

Since Walsh first went public with Frolik’s desire to get off the bench, the forward has scored twice and added a pair of assists over three games.

Frolik, 30, still has another season after this one on his contract ($4.3-million cap hit, but only $3 million in 2019-20 salary), and these Flames are shaping up to be the best club he’s been part of since the 2013 champion Blackhawks.

Is playing time the only issue here? Perhaps. But just in case, it seems everyone’s on the same page about not degrading Frolik’s potential trade value through injury:

9. As Mathew Barzal enjoyed his third multi-goal effort in four outings and extended his point streak to six games Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum, a viciously gleeful “J.T. sucks!” rang through the barn.

The Islanders were playing Chicago.

The air during Tavares’s return to his old stomping grounds on Feb. 28 will be all kinds of toxic.

10. For one night only, FOX (no relation) is bringing back the Glow Puck.

Yep, for Saturday’s ’90s Night broadcast of the Kings-Oilers games, FOX Sports West will broadcast with that American-proof reminder of where you need to be focusing your attention when you watch hockey.

“During the summer, I like to drop by the Kings office, pretending to do actual ‘work.’ One day, I happened to notice ’90s Night’ as a date on the promotional calendar. Then it dawned on me: What could be more ’90s and hockey-related than the glowing puck, animated robots, and kitschy opening montages from the NHL on FOX?” play-by-play announcer Alex Faust told LAKings.com.

“Needless to say I’ve been irrationally excited about this night for a while.”

11. The aforementioned Mike McKenna, 35, is about to don his 21st different pro hockey sweater now that he’s been claimed by Philadelphia.

This season alone, he’s already dressed for Belleville, Ottawa and Vancouver — and we’re not even at the halfway mark.

The goaltender’s wife, Rachel, wrote an eloquent message on Twitter that is worth your time, shedding some perspective as we race toward trade season:

12. Alex Semin with the epic drum fill to kick off your weekend on the right note…

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