A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. Tomas Kaberle, 39, is playing hockey in Toronto again. I spotted his apple cheeks patrolling the blue line in a high-tempo shinny game wearing the same light sweater as Hall of Famer Eric Lindros on Monday night.
Fun to see the old dads in my group, which went on after the flood, pressing their faces to the glass while delaying getting changed: “See who that is out there?!”
After two end-of-the-road pro seasons in his native Czech league — he scored 20 points in 51 games with Brno Kometa in 2015-16 — the defenceman returned to Toronto last summer. Kaberle made retirement official in September.
His wife, Julia, is from here, and they have two young children. They live downtown.
“This is going to be my home,” says Kaberle, who still skates twice a week for fun.
“I would be lying if I told you I don’t miss it — the dressing room, the camaraderie, and the game itself.”
Kaberle says he still stays in touch with a bunch of former Leafs. Guys like Nik Antropov, Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi and Matt Stajan. He attended a few Leafs games this season and got excited by what he saw. He notices a parallel in the opportunity Pat Quinn gave him as a rookie in 1998 with how Mike Babcock treated the new kids: giving them enough rope to make mistakes.
“Pat Quinn gave me a chance the first year, right away, which I totally appreciated. He’s probably the most influential person, after my parents, in my hockey career,” Kaberle says. “With this team, they’re not under that much pressure yet, but once they get there, we’ll see how they can handle that.”
The only two Leafs remaining from Kaberle’s playing days are Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri, who was a rookie the year Kaberle got traded to Boston.
“He played with a spark this year,” Kaberle beams. “He was hitting guys. He was a little rough, which is good. A lot of people didn’t expect him to do as well as he did this year.”
Also asked Kaberle to think back to his draft day. Toronto chose the four-time all-star in the eighth round, 204th overall. There is no longer an eighth round.
The kid from Czech remembers going to the 1996 draft alone with his agent and just sitting for hours in the Kiel Center.
“I was in St. Louis. Waiting there forever,” he says. “It was new for me. So I was just doing what I was told: waiting there.”
2. Ottawa’s Eugene Melnyk, one of the rare NHL owners to regularly speak publicly, gave a great interview on Prime Time Sports Thursday (listen below).
Highlights include injured superhuman Erik Karlsson’s barely being able to walk to the shower after Game 6, the fact seven Senators are too hurt to be playing regular-season games right now (one has a nasty gash below his rib cage), and Melnyk naming his preferred Stanley Cup Final opponent: the Nashville Predators.
(Remember when Panthers co-owner Doug Cifu named his preferred playoff opponent?)
3. Unless you count silver medals or final appearances as victories, the last championship Henrik Lundqvist truly won — besides, of course, the hearts of women and hockey fans everywhere — was Olympic gold with Sweden in 2006.
NHL players aren’t going to PyeongChang, so maybe it’s not so surprising to see him join Team Sweden at the worlds, where he’ll be an upgrade from Eddie Lack and Viktor Fasth. That group lacks juice up front, but the blue line is golden: Victor Hedman, Jonas Brodin, Alex Edler, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Anton Stralman and John Klingberg.
Fun fact: Lundqvist won world-championship gold as an inline goalie in 2002. He has a pair of ice hockey world silvers (2003 and 2004) but no gold… yet.
Lundqvist is four years removed from his last Vezina nomination and just turned in his worst regular-season save percentage as an NHLer. He’ll eat $8.5 million of the Rangers’ salary cap for the next four seasons. He’ll be 39 when his deal expires.
On the flip side, the Rangers don’t survive the Canadiens in Round 1 if he doesn’t play so kingly. Lundqvist holds New York club records for most wins, most shutouts, consecutive Game 7 wins, most saves and dreamiest eyes.
And yet, each May or June we see the same image of an all-time great goalie despondent. Are we going to be watching the same uncomfortable movie four years from now? It’s possible.
But this New Jersey lunch entree is just cruel:
4. When the Dallas Stars lock up Ben Bishop (a season too late for Lindy Ruff, but at least Jim Nill is being proactive before July 1), the next best UFA goaltender, it says here, is a toss-up between Mike Condon and Ryan Miller. They both posted .914 save percentages.
Miller — the more proven and expensive and picky of the two — did so behind one of the thinnest blue lines in the league. He’s 36 and shouldn’t command the $6 million he made this season.
Condon, 27, deserves a boatload of credit for his prolonged mid-season relief effort while Ottawa starter Craig Anderson left to be with his wife. If Condon doesn’t stand on his head for the bulk of his 40 appearances, the Sens don’t make the playoffs — period.
We see Calgary, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Buffalo, Winnipeg and Vancouver in the market for a No. 1 or 1B.
Expect to see Condon ($575,000 cap hit) get a sweet raise and a greater opportunity.
5. Slovenia’s Ziga Jeglic should have been booted from the IIHF World Championship for this move. Recklessness bordering on insanity. What if his skate blade slices his target’s neck? Instead he got a wrist-slap: two round-robin games. Ho-hum.
6. After Wednesday’s thrilling double-header of Game 7s, I felt bad for two men who weren’t even on the ice: Bruce Boudreau and Brian MacLellan.
Randy Carlyle swooped in and oversaw the Game 7 victory Boudreau never could.
“It takes a long time [to get over a Game 7 loss],” Boudreau told Prime Time Sports Thursday. “I’m still quite upset that we [the Wild] lost in the first round.”
MacLellan, GM of the Capitals, constructed arguably the best on-paper roster we’ve seen in the cap era — deep at every position — and they still couldn’t survive Round 2.
7. All due respect to Team Denmark’s world championship goaltenders, but I’ve never heard of them. That’s because I don’t follow Simon Nielsen’s Herning Blue Fox or Sebastian Dahm’s Graz 99ers — although those are both wonderful hockey club names.
Toronto’s Frederik Andersen, of course, was Denmark’s first choice to play goal at the worlds, but by his admission he’s played his “longest season,” one that tracing back to Olympic qualification games held before September’s World Cup. He was tired.
Andersen’s 66 appearances in Toronto were 12 more than any other NHL season and 32 more than he played back when he was a Blue Fox.
“Just playing a lot was a great experience. I know now I’m capable of doing it. I’ll take another step next year. Being one of those top goalies is obviously a goal,” Andersen said.
“Being able to handle the workload is a nice, reassuring thing.”
The big, soft-spoken Dane likes to golf and watch baseball. But he’s facing a heavy off-season workout-wise, which he’ll split between Toronto, Anaheim and Denmark.
“Everyone’s expectations are going to be higher. There’s no surprising. Everyone’s going to know we’re a good team, and it’s going to be harder,” the Leafs’ No. 1 said.
“We’re expected to do our job at the rink, on the ice, in the gym. That’s my focus.”
Based on the Leafs’ tough series against the Capitals, Andersen knows that the city’s Cup dreams have grown more tangible.
“It doesn’t just happen overnight, but I love where we’re going,” he said. “Everyone seems to be buying in.”
Even if that means lifting weights while poor Denmark — still looking for a regulation win — gets shutout by Latvia and Russia, and shelled by the U.S. in the worlds.
(P.S. Now I want a Blue Fox sweater, minus the Euro advertisements.)
8. Asked Andersen what it was like playing a whole season behind the Maple Leafs’ blue line compared to the Ducks’ defence core, which had the NHL’s fewest goals allowed in his final season there.
He didn’t bite. Andersen said it took him a while to learn the Leafs’ tendencies, how they like to break out and communicate, to get on the same page.
“It’s tough to compare. I’m not going to go into it too much,” he said. “I think we’ve done a lot of good things. It’s been a fun experience to play with these guys. As a team, we’ve grown, but I think me and the defencemen have grown together.”
9. Wonderful response from world championship scout Mike Babcock when he sees some Swedish kid pick a top-left corner:
10. Excellent work by Rob Blake and the new Kings regime to sign Tanner Pearson — a 24-year-old 24-goal scorer — at a reasonable rate ($3.75 million) and term (four years).
This will make it difficult for fellow RFA-to-be Tyler Toffoli (16 goals this season) to get much more.
The previous front office gave out too many long-term, big-money deals to forwards it later regretted.
11. Game 7 coaches Mike Sullivan and Barry Trotz both extolled the virtues of having iPads on the bench to coach on the fly. Tablets — they’re not just used for dissecting offsides, kids.
Sullivan: “Very useful. Our players, they like to see certain things in particular times. We have the opportunity to give them a quick visual that I think helps them with those next circumstances that are out there. [Assistant coach] Rick Tocchet is our guy on the bench responsible for that role on our team, and we find it to be very helpful for our group.”
Trotz: “The assistant coaches are usually the ones looking at it. Technology is a big part of players’ lives now in the game. They want to see things to correct things or make adjustments. They’re given [instruction] verbally, we may draw something on a board or a card, and players want to see it. iPads allow coaches to teach on the bench or make adjustments on the bench. It’s part of the game now. It’s part of the new-age player. Back when I was growing up you’d barely have a coach pull out the board and draw something. They’d just tell you verbally.”
Sullivan: “We use them quite a bit in special teams, whether it be a power-play breakout or penalty-kill forecheck, or certain things that we want to see in order to potentially make an adjustment right on the bench.”
Trotz: “Special teams coaches always look at it. After every power play and penalty kill, they’re into their own deal. Sometimes a player feels a play, and asks a coach, ‘What do you want me to do?’ So the coach will look at it with him and give a real clear, concise answer. Technology is a big part of it.”
12. Line of the Week pairs nicely with Photograph of the Week.
“I was pretty much in a death grip,” Connor McDavid said of the moment immortalized above. “I was just trying to get on the plane as fast as I could.”