A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Our entire fan base is questioning the work ethic invested into this week’s column.
1. Before Toronto trades Tyson Barrie out of town, let’s take a little peek at his ice time since Morgan Rielly left the Maple Leafs lineup to take care of his broken foot.
Of those 16 games, Barrie has logged a minimum of 23:42 in 10 of them. Thrice he’s surpassed the 27-minute mark. All this extra work has elevated his season average to 21:44.
Considering the other options to throw over the boards, the coaching staff either trusts Barrie or is showcasing the hell outta him — and we’re guessing the former.
For his spates of poor decision-making and unflattering plus/minus (dash-7), Barrie’s underlying numbers have been positive. His 54.5 Corsi for percentage this season is up from his 49.7 career average, although it helps to be putting the puck in the hands of a dynamic forward corps.
After a cringe-inducing start under Mike Babcock, Barrie has rebounded under Sheldon Keefe, albeit not to the heights that he’ll be re-signed.
It’s one thing to explore all trade options, especially for an expiring asset, which is what GM Kyle Dubas is and should be doing.
The Canucks, Flames, Golden Knights and Hurricanes are among those reportedly kicking tires on Barrie, and Dubas — as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman first reported — would flip him only if there was a way to immediately add to the Leafs’ blue line either directly or through a complementary deal.
Tricky to pull off, but it makes sense.
There is, however, risk in compounding one underwhelming move with another.
Rielly isn’t coming back for another month. Toronto’s playoff fate may be sealed by then.
Barrie, 28, has found a rhythm with the power-play. He now leads all Leafs D-men in points (33), despite enduring a career-worst point slump in the fall. His cap hit ($2.75 million) is light work.
Even with his warts, Barrie arguably outshines every UFA right-shot D-man in the 2020 UFA class not named Alex Pietrangelo. (We also love us some Chris Tanev, 30, who’s been remarkably healthy this season.)
If Dubas can somehow spin Barrie into Matt Dumba or a suitable equivalent, we get it. We’re on board.
But fans would be foolish to believe a Barrie trade is simply addition by subtraction. Sheldon Keefe doesn’t really want to be forced to play Martin Marincin and Timothy Liljegren all those left over minutes.
2. I asked Jason Spezza, who’s only lived through 16 of these trade deadlines, how the uncertainly of this time of year affects a dressing room.
“You’d like to say it doesn’t do anything, but it’s human nature that guys hear their names thrown around, and a lot of times you don’t want to leave. Or some guys they want to leave,” Spezza explained. “It’s just a little bit uneasiness around deadline time, so for clarity you like to see it come and go and just get to work.
“But to say that it doesn’t affect anyone wouldn’t be true, because it’s guys lives that are being talked about [on] all the shows. And sometimes there’s nothing to the rumour. People [in the media] just need something to talk about, and then that gets in guys’ heads too.”
When considering the human element to all of the speculation, we couldn’t help but think of Brenden Dillon‘s final interview as San Jose Shark, for whom he’s played 60 of 62 career playoff games:
3. During Thursday’s greatest game in Maple Leafs history (wink), the home side was granted 1:53 of 5-on-3 power-play time due to Pittsburgh’s ill-timed puck-over-glass infraction.
To pounce on the occasion, Sheldon Keefe rolled out five forwards and no defencemen: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares, and Zach Hyman – who supplanted Barrie on the usual PP1.
It worked. Nylander converted with plenty of time to spare.
Tavares couldn’t recall ever being rolled out with four other forwards.
“I can’t think of it off the top of my head, but I think there’s no secret the type of the skill set we have up front,” Tavares said of the unusual deployment. “We reviewed it [pre-game], and I think that allowed us to be ready, to be sharp for what we’re looking for, and we were able to capitalize.”
Keefe said both he and Leafs power-play guru Paul McFarland have used his setup in past jobs.
“It came pretty naturally, just in terms of the 5-on-3, we like the fact we have the four forwards that have all the creativity and the ability to score, but really we think having Hyman’s ability to just stand at the net and make it difficult for the goaltender gives a good mix for us. Unfortunately that takes Barrie off, but we just like that look for those situations.”
— Leafs Fans United (@LeafsFansUnited) February 21, 2020
That Nylander strike gave him 27 in 2019-20, besting dad Michael (26) for the family title of most goals in a season.
“I have a way better shot than what he had, so I should be getting a couple more than him,” William deadpanned.
4. If the New York Rangers — holders of the best rental chip on the board in Chris Kreider — win again Saturday, they’ll enter the deadline having won eight of nine games.
Ahead of Saturday’s games, the Blueshirts have a better goal differential (plus-14) than nine teams that are in playoff position.
They have games in hand and are healthier than the teams they’re chasing for the wild card.
Their new No. 1 goalie, Igor Shesterkin (8-1-0, .938 save percentage), is running hotter than Pierre Dorion’s cell bill.
Does GM Jeff Gorton dare get swayed from the master plan and try to make the dance now?
5. On game mornings, Spezza has been spotted hot-boxing the bowels of Scotiabank Arena with great, stinky plumes of spray-paint vapor.
The veteran comes out of the dressing room and coats a couple of his black Warrior Covert sticks in clown white from about a third of the shaft down to the blade.
His stick supplier only produces black twigs, but since forever, Spezza’s eyes need to look down and see white.
Black puck on a white stick with white tape. Simple.
His eyes need the contrast.
“When I was young, I used white Sher-Woods with a wood-coloured blade. I just always used a lighter blade,” Spezza says.
“There was a small period where I use black, then they started making me white. I’ve used like a light silver before too. For me, it’s just more like the light colour. It’s just optics.”
6. How perfect is this?
With Shea Weber’s injury and astonishingly quick return, the defenceman is now on track to play his 1,000th game on April 1… in Nashville.
Please stay healthy.
7. God bless the Vegas Golden Knights.
The franchise has only existed for three Februarys and has already completed nine deadline season trades, many of them significant (Mark Stone, Ryan Reaves, Tomas Tatar, Alec Martinez).
They’re preparing to put in even more work by clearing Cody Eakin and his $3.875 million cap hit off the books in Friday’s deal to Winnipeg.
The rumour mill has Vegas targeting another defenceman, but I do wonder if they might poke around for goalie depth. Backup Malcolm Subban has a .893 save percentage, and more teams are willing to part with a netminder this week than are looking for one.
8. We get it. You’re tanking.
With Friday night’s 4-1 loss to the Islanders, the Detroit Red Wings were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs Friday night.
This train wreck with a purpose is on pace to finish with a minus-141 goal differential, which would be the worst of any NHL team in 20 years.
The 1999-2000 Atlanta Thrashers finished at minus-143, but they had the excuse of being an expansion team.
If Steve Yzerman manages to further deplete his lineup before 3 p.m. ET Monday, the Dead Things could even give the Thrashers a run for their ineptitude.
9. Here are my greatest trade deadline wild cards, by division — meaning they have the GM/assets/urgency/cojones to pull off something big and unexpected:
10. Carly Zucker comes off the top ropes with the Tweet of the Week.
11. Next Friday is the 10th anniversary of the Golden Goal. Doubtlessly, you remember exactly where you were and how high you jumped and all the people you hugged.
The energy. The tension. The focus.
“Yeah, all of that. I mean, that’s that’s how I remember it. Just the feeling of winning,” author of Canadian history Sidney Crosby said this week, reflecting on Vancouver 2010’s Olympic climax.
“But I also remember that feeling of when [the U.S.] tied the game with less than a minute left or whatever. It was a feeling like you’re so close and we played such a good game and having it come down to basically one shot. So, those are those are big situations to be in, especially you know at a young age, but I was happy that we found a way to win it.
As a 22-year-old sending ripples of elation through an entire country, did Crosby have any grasp of the magnitude of that moment?
“At the time, you’re just trying to win a hockey game. I don’t think you think about that. I think you look at it as a great opportunity being in Canada. You know, growing up as a kid, you dream of being in those situations,” Crosby said.
“But after the fact, that’s kind of when you kind of let all that stuff sink in.”
When Zach Parise tied the game with just 24 seconds remaining, did Crosby allow doubt to creep in?
“No. Just disappointment. I mean, you’re that close. The crowd’s into it. It didn’t feel like they were getting a lot of momentum. We felt like we were keeping everything outside. It was just kind of one quick shot and a rebound and the game was tied,” Crosby explained.
“When they score that late, you don’t have a lot of time to think about it. You got to just turn the page, and we had a pretty solid group there when it came to leadership and the poise that everyone showed. That’s something I’ll always remember.”
12. Whenever you feel sad, just watch Joe Pavelski tip every single puck sifted his way into the net.
This is art tbh.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 20, 2020