A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four-lines deep. Typed with one hand while Dmitry Kulikov yanked us down to the ice.
1. Because I invest an unhealthy amount of time thinking about minutiae that has little bearing on the actual outcome of hockey games, one of my first thoughts once the Toronto Maple Leafs let both Jake Gardiner and Nazem Kadri go over the summer was: But who is going to be the dressing-room DJ now?
For years, Gardiner cued up the club’s morning-skate playlist and Kadri cranked up the beats for pre-game.
Turns out, no one wanted to inherit the gig.
“We’re making Mitchy do it this year,” says Auston Matthews, after Thursday’s practice. “It’s been hit-and-miss.”
Matthews turns to his teammate: “We just forced ya. You just throw on the top charts and let it run?”
“Top charts into hip-hop,” Marner shoots back. “Absolute bangers.”
I ask for an example of the songs that work with the group.
“Nothing works. They always criticize,” Marner says, defeated. “No matter what song gets played, everyone hates it.”
So, was Kadri a better team DJ?
“I can’t give Nazzy that. He had some tough goes there,” Matthews smiles. “If you’re the guy doing the music, you’re screwed. You’re always in the wrong. Either the music’s not playing, the Bluetooth’s not working, or it’s a bad song… it’s like a no-win situation. But somebody’s gotta do it.”
Marner it is.
“I got screamed at to grab my phone and play music, so whatever. I just put on a radio station on my app and tell everyone to suck it up. I’m barely in the room until 26 minutes [until puck drop]. I don’t take requests. I don’t care,” explains Marner, the reluctant selector.
“Post Malone’s always good. It depends on the mood. I saw him last year here, in the summertime. He’s good live. I like all genres.
“I’m not too picky with my music. On a long bus ride, I can sit on my phone and play music and just chill.”
Ironically, it was Kadri’s replacement, Tyson Barrie, who helped push for the 2-0 Maple Leafs’ new win song they crank after a W.
“It’s called ‘Hot,’ by Young Thug,” Marner says. “Tyson was the one who actually brought it up, and a couple guys talked about it. Young Thug is on a full run through this locker room right now. It’s getting played on my phone quite a bit.”
Bonus Beat! Six artists Matthews plays in his headphones as he walks into the rink: Young Thug, Drake, Future, DaBaby, Lil Baby, Gunna.
“At least the music’s a little bit louder [during warm-ups] this year. Last year it was super quiet,” Matthews says. “People were complaining that it was too loud, but we’re the ones playing, so I think they bumped it up a little bit. And we’ve been able to request songs, so it’s been a lot better this year.”
2. Lost in the shadow of Jason Spezza getting healthy-scratched for the Maple Leafs’ season opener was the happy-news story for his replacement, Nick Shore.
At age 27, the depth forward battled back to the NHL after a one-year hiatus in Magnitogorsk, where he put up 16 points in 37 KHL games.
“You can only talk to a handful of guys in the locker room,” he said of his winter in Russia. “The coach is up on the board, and he’s not speaking English. That’s a bit of a shock at first.
“It’s a different experience. There’s a lot of positives you can take out of it, but at the end of the day I’m happy to be back.”
Toronto reached out to Shore almost immediately after Metallurg was eliminated from the playoffs and told the journeyman they wanted him to just play his game — check, win face-offs, start most of your shifts in the defensive zone, don’t expect a ton of minutes.
“Once I heard this was an opportunity, I was ready to go,” Shore says. “Anytime you have a chance to come to an organization like this, kinda from top to bottom, it’s something you gotta be really excited to do.”
Shore understands that most veterans, especially depth players, who bounce from three different NHL teams in a single season before ending up overseas never make it back to the highest level.
“One of the things you learn over there is, don’t take anything for granted,” he says. “So when you get an opportunity like this, you gotta take full advantage of it.”
3. Leafs coach Mike Babcock swapped out fourth-liner Shore for Spezza for Friday’s win in Columbus. He also removed third-line winger Dmytro Timashov in favour of Nic Petan and bottom-pair defenceman Martin Marincin for Justin Holl, presumably on his last shot to stick as a Leaf.
Shore, Timashov and Marincin return to action Saturday versus the Montreal Canadiens.
A rotation of bubble players are essentially extending tryouts into October, until the Maple Leafs’ coaching staff feels confident in the group.
“We don’t have the answers; we’re trying to find ’em,” Babcock said.
Babcock employed this same tactic a couple autumns back when trying to decide on Calle Rosen versus Andreas Borgman and Eric Fehr versus Dominic Moore.
We like the rotation idea. It keeps players fresh and hungry, and provides us on the outside with debate. Why rush to finalize when injuries and slumps could will put any roster in flux anyway?
Still, it’s difficult not to view Spezza’s Game 1 scratch as a reminder that Babcock is going to do things his way, hurt feelings be damned.
“Mike and I are 100 per cent on the same page,” said GM Kyle Dubas, asking that critics wait to judge these decisions until season’s end instead of picking apart snapshots. “Mike had his rationale and reasoning. I know it’s disappointing for Jason, and I totally understand. I get why it’s a discussion.”
4. At $2.1 million, Connor Brown was too expensive for the Leafs’ fourth line.
Now, he’s a bargain on the Ottawa Senators‘ top trio, to the right of franchise building blocks Colin White and Brady Tkachuk.
“It’s excitement. I’ve always been a guy that wants to contribute offensively. That’s, in all honesty, the fun part of the game,” Brown says.
“Brady and Whitey, my two lineys here, I didn’t really know much about them, from them being young in the league, and they both have a lot of skill. Whitey has a lot of speed, and Chucky, I was surprised with how good his hands are and how well he sees the game and his ability to make plays. They’re going to be pretty good players for a long time.”
Funny how fast a player’s situation can shift based on usage. If Brown, a favourite of coach D.J. Smith, can flourish in his new offensive role, he could be in for a juicy raise after this, another platform season.
“Brown Cow is a guy who we love. You hate to see a guy who is from Toronto, who loves being here, leave, but it’s the finances in the game,” Babcock said. “That’s just the reality.”
5. In recent campaigns, the Maple Leafs were one of those rare clubs that didn’t pass around a player-of-the game token after a victory.
This season, they unveiled a pretty unique one:
That handle on Matthews in full gear, though:
6. The St. Louis Blues’ social-media squad is already in championship form, trying to make us cry with sentiment…
…and with laughter:
Sorry about the typo. We’re still learning how to tweet with our championship rings on. #stlblues
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) October 3, 2019
7. At the risk of beating the John Tavares captaincy drum again, the links between him and the lineage of previous Toronto captains is something.
Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark attended Wednesday’s opener to congratulate him in-person. Doug Gilmour penned an open letter to Tavares upon hearing the news. And the previous captain, unsigned Dion Phaneuf, with whom Tavares played at the world championship, reached out via text.
“He sent a really, really nice message just saying how special it is to be a captain here and to play for this city,” said Tavares.
As a youngster, Tavares even met another Leafs captain, George Armstrong.
“It’s really cool to say I got to meet him and be around him even at that age.”
8. Dylan Larkin only endorses products he believes in. He also does an inordinate amount of stretching while wearing dress pants.
this is the kind of targeting marketing i want to see from the NHL pic.twitter.com/If18tSW9QF
— cayce (@cayceonthego) October 2, 2019
9. Patric and Helena Sandin flew from Sweden to take in their son Rasmus’s NHL debut.
“They sacrificed a lot for me when I was younger, so I think it means a lot to them as well. They want the best for me and my brother, so they’re very happy for us,” said Sandin, before rewarding them with an assist and a win.
Post-game, the teenage phenom admitted there was a moment during one of his shifts where he had to ask himself if he was awake.
“It’s going to be in my head all the time,” he said. “I’ll remember this for life.”
Then he went out and scored three goals in a span of eight minutes and 35 seconds. Get this kid in the NHL. Let’s load up the Central Division even more.
11. A couple of interesting notes about Alex DeBrincat’s three-year contract extension ($6.4 million AAV) with the Chicago Blackhawks:
• Like so many of the other bridge deals signed by young stars over the past month, DeBrincat’s salary spikes in the third season, to $9 million, ensuring his qualifying offer will be a juicy one.
• His deal will expire in 2022, the same summer veterans Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith all come off the books and the cap is expected to jump. Could be a major turning point for the franchise.
12. Yes! Lazlo Holmes is now a recurring character: