A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. The value of Patrick Marleau to the Toronto Maple Leafs goes beyond the team-high five game-winning goals he’s already potted in his new uniform.
The way the 38-year-old has bonded with Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner — a couple of 20-year-olds aspiring to the 1,000-point career Marleau is enjoying — over the past couple of months is quite something.
“Everybody says that Patty’s got four kids at home and two on the road because he kinda takes care of me and Mitchy,” Matthews says. “It’s been awesome.”
During Marleau’s first month as a Leaf, Matthews wanted to stay quiet around him, get to know him. But now the two of them and Marner are spending most of their time on road trips together.
“He’s pretty much with us every single night, just relaxing, watching movies, sitting around talking to us,” Marner says. “We’ve gotten pretty close. We joke around with him quite a bit. He comes back and sits with us most of the flights that we’re on. We’ve grown a good relationship with him, and he’s been a big help to us.”
Marner is the film buff of the bunch. Although the three pals did watch Cars 3 (a selection Marner regrets), the winger has mostly given Marleau a break from animated fare: “I think with four kids he’s watching a lot of cartoon movies.”
In effort to get the Leafs kids off their smartphones, Marleau bought a pack of playing cards at a gift shop in Carolina. They played poker once — “Patty took us for all our money,” says Matthews, who’s still rolling with an entry-level stack — then switched to old maid. Once Marleau taught Matthews euchre, he got hooked.
“Now he wants to play constantly, which sucks, because sometimes you just want to sit there and relax with your phone and he’s begging you to play euchre,” Marner says.
The learning is reciprocal.
“He’s caught on to little catch phrases and shortcuts texting,” says Matthews, proudly. “Ask Mitch. I texted ‘HBU’ — how ’bout you? — and he asked Mitch what that meant. He thought that was the funniest thing. It’s like, we’re 20 years old. All these shortcuts, we’re so familiar with them. We know all of them. Patty was a bit confused. We had a good laugh about it for a couple weeks.”
Marner confirms: “It’s a funny joke going around still for us.”
Marleau has brought his actual sons around the rink on a couple of practice days to meet his adopted ones.
“I think they’re closer in age with us than we are with Patty,” Matthews smiles. “He’s 38 going on 20. It’s fun hanging out with him.”
No one is more pleased with how the club’s A.M./P.M. connection than coach Mike Babcock.
“It’s a home run for us,” Babcock says. “I had Nick Lidstrom and now I have Patty Marleau. Those are fine, fine, fine human beings to say the least. They make people better.
“He comes every day, he doesn’t say nothing and just works hard. It’s not a bad concept. You’re hoping it wears off.”
2. Today’s headline is so frequently forgotten tomorrow as we’re on to the next mini controversy or taking point.
So Matt Martin gets healthy-scratched for the first time in his Maple Leafs tenure, on a Friday night in Carolina. It gets attention for about six hours and everyone moves on.
But one scratching can have a lasting effect as it flies in the face of an athlete’s competitive nature.
“It definitely pisses you off,” Martin told me this week. “You always want to play. It’s never easy.”
Considering the brand of hockey he plays, it’s remarkable that Martin hardly ever sits or gets hurt. He’s never missed more than four games in a season. He still hasn’t had a discussion with Babcock as to why he was benched that game, a 5-4 Toronto victory.
“It is what it is,” he says. “I’ve been in the league long enough, they know what they’re getting from me.”
Martin isn’t whining about this; he’s just lending insight.
“There’s guys in this room who get scratched all the time. It’s hard on them, too, but they come in and keep a smile on their face. They’re there after the games we win to pat us on the back,” Martin said.
“It’s important as a teammate to return that favour and not show negativity in the room. It was hard. Always is. But it’s about the team.”
Martin was right back in the following night, versus Washington, and delivered two monster hits in his first shift. I tell him he looked angry. He says that was partly because of residual dislike of the Caps from his Metro Division days and partly a release of his healthy-scratch frustration.
“You come out pissed off,” he says.
3. When the Calgary Flames won the bidding war for Travis Hamonic‘s services on the draft floor, the club was instantly hailed, right up there with Nashville and Anaheim, as having the defensive depth other teams would kill for.
The Flames’ second pairing of Hamonic and T.J. Brodie has struggled to find its groove, however, and has performed below the standard set by Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton’s top duo.
Hamonic is a minus-6 with three points and has taken 38 minutes in penalties. All three stats rank worst among Calgary defenders.
One doesn’t have to think too far back, however, to recall a time when Hamilton was falling under the cross-hairs.
Flames coach Glen Gulutzan says Hamonic has exceeded hopes for a guy who cost the franchise a first- and two second-round draft picks.
“He’s been actually a bit more than we expected. In the locker room, he’s really coming to the forefront as a leader. He’s a vocal guy,” Gulutzan says.
“He plays hard. The tougher the games, the more heavy the games, the type of games that are in the playoffs — those are the types of games this guy’s built for. But just in the locker room was something I didn’t realize he had this positive and intense effect. Well-liked, but he’s been all business. That’s been a real good surprise for us.”
4. Brady Tkachuk, 18, is the big younger brother of Matthew. Like his more notorious older sibling, the centreman has been developed through the U.S. national program and is off to a nice year as a rookie at Boston University (12 points and a plus-9 rating through 17 contests).
Tkachuk has earned an invite to Team USA’s world junior camp, and his brother is rooting for him heavy from Calgary.
“I hope he makes it. I think he should,” says Matthew, who went to watch Brady at the U.S. junior team’s summer showcase.
Matthew’s scouting report on Brady: big guy, good skater, play maker, sneaky with takeaways, dangerous around the net.
“He’s a lot bigger than me. He’s a lot faster than me,” Matthew says. “He’s that dual threat where he can beat you with speed and power.”
5. Since their little European vacation to Sweden, the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators have a combined record of 3-16-3. Only one of those victories was in regulation. The Avalanche are back where they ended last season, in the Central basement.
We’re not convinced too many teams will be volunteering to fly overseas a month into 2018-19 to play a couple of exhibition games that matter.
6. Exhibit A in the case for John Tavares getting all the money this summer may be Matt Moulson’s hockeydb page.
Every full season Moulson skated on Tavares’ flank, he scored a minimum of 30 goals. Before (with L.A.) and after J.T. (with Minnesota and mostly Buffalo), Moulson hasn’t sniffed 15.
We circled the formerly scary sniper as a buyout candidate for the Sabres over the summer. They kept him.
He scored zero points and was a minus-9 this season before getting waived this week after 14 games.
As a gesture of goodwill, Buffalo assigned Moulson to the Ontario Reign instead of Rochester. His salary in the minors is $5 million this season. He doesn’t become a free agent until the summer of 2019.
Add Moulson to a list of over-reaching recent signings — Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino, Cody Hodgson — that have come back to bite this franchise hard.
7. The Maple Leafs visited the Hospital for Sick Children on an off-day this week.
“When you go to Sick Kids, you realize all those little things you’ve got going on in your life aren’t that big,” Babcock says.
“When you listen to a kid and he’s telling you he has treatment for nine more weeks and he’s all jacked up about it, you’re having a look at yourself. That’s a good slap for you. Get your life on track.”
The annual field trip has long been a Leafs tradition, and it leaves an impression on the children and the players. You may recall Phil Kessel bringing the Stanley Cup to Sick Kids after his first championship in Pittsburgh.
“It means a lot. It’s always good to go put a smile on a kid’s face,” Matthews says. “It definitely puts things in your own life into perspective.”
8. Mike Smith says the most difficult shot for him to stop are the ones where the shooter makes a mistake and flubs the puck.
“You’re reading it to go somewhere and it goes a total opposite direction. You kinda look like an idiot most times. Usually they’re trying to go high, so you’re expecting it to go high and it goes five-hole and everyone says it’s a bad goal. But no one knows where you were reading it to go,” Smith says.
“They miss their shot and they still beat ya.”
9. Barry Trotz delivered some candid if unflattering analysis of Kevin Shattenkirk‘s brief tenure as a Washington Capital Thursday.
Here are Trotz’s full comments (via AP’s Stephen Whyno): “It takes a little bit of adjustment. We play a little different than some teams. It worked in areas that we wanted. He helped our power play. He made it more dangerous and that. I think everybody thought of him as a 1-2, and he really wasn’t. He was a little lower. I think it worked out OK. I think he had a patch during the one series where it wasn’t really good. I think he regained it and scored a big goal for us in Pitt. I just think, yeah, the first playoff series [against Toronto] wasn’t. That’s what you remember. It sticks out. But I think overall he was fine.”
Shattenkirk, the prize won by the New York Rangers in free agency, delivered a pretty good response. Watch:
“It doesn’t sit well with you,” Shattenkirk told reporters of Trotz saying he’s not a top-pair guy.
“It’s nothing that you enjoy hearing, but I think there’s a lot of people who probably think that about me. I like to use that in my favour and try to use that as something to just keep me boosted and prove people wrong.”
10. One more on the 2017 class of free agent defencemen.
We know Shattenkirk, whose 20 points rank him eighth among all D-men, gave the Rangers a hometown discount so he could return to New York.
Babcock said this week that Ron Hainsey’s wife is from Hamilton, Ont., and that played a role in Toronto’s ability to recruit the defenceman. Partnered with Morgan Rielly, Hainsey has been integral to the Leafs’ top pair and penalty kill.
Babcock on the recruitment process: “Sure, it’s money and it’s opportunity, but it’s a lot of things to do with life, too. We’re lucky to get him.”
11.The Calder Trophy race is shaping up to be a doozy with two thirds of the track still ahead.
Vancouver’s Brock Boeser, whose 14 goals top all freshmen, and the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, who holds a slight edge in points (27), must be considered neck-and-neck.
Breathing down their necks are Arizona’s Clayton Keller, Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat, New Jersey’s Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, plus a bunch more immediate-impact forwards.
Mikhail Sergachev, Will Butcher, and minutes-munching Charlie McAvoy deserve consideration on the blue line, too.
In other words, this thing is still wide open.
You have to wonder how six weeks without centre Bo Horvat will impact Boeser’s ability to snap that beautiful shot of his. But Boeser scored Thursday night sans Horvat.
12. As a tribute to Jere Lehtinen on Nov. 24, the night of his jersey retirement, the Dallas Stars all wore yellow skate laces — as Lehtinen did in his playing days.
The Stars celebrated a 6-4 comeback win that night and decided to stick with the yellow. Four more victories followed before the lucky laces lost lustre in a loss to the Predators, who wear yellow helmets. But the laces did help Dallas jump into a playoff spot.