A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. Auston Matthews wasn’t the only Maple Leafs star who addressed his contract situation Thursday night in Toronto.
Fellow RFA-in-waiting Mitch Marner will be able to buy all the Super Soakers and Fun Dip his heart desires by 2019-20, and although initial talks have begun, we’d be surprised if William Nylander’s and Matthews’s deals aren’t signed first.
Marner bounced all over Mike Babcock’s lineup in 2017-18 and didn’t really explode until he was partnered with Nazem Kadri in the back half of the season.
Babcock loves his forward pairs. A full year as John Tavares’s wingman can do wonders for one’s bank account. Ask Matt Moulson, who made $5 million last season skating for the Ontario Reign. Or Kyle Okposo. Or Josh Bailey.
“I’m kinda staying out of it, letting Kyle [Dubas] and my agent talk about it,” Marner says. “If something get done, then something gets down. If not, it’s just another hockey season.
“I want to play for this team for a long time. But saying that, I’ll just let those two talk. I’ll stay in the background and keep working.”
Marner, we’ll remind you, led all Leafs in scoring in both the regular season and the playoffs. He was the one tapped by Leafs brass “for a quick 20-minute skate,” he says, that the club filmed for Tavares’s free agency recruitment video.
“I didn’t know what it was about. They just asked me to do a bunch of drills. I found out later it was for that video,” Marner told Sportsnet while hosting his Marner Assist Fund charity event. “The great thing about him is, he’s a shooter and a passer.
“In the corners, how he can get away from people and draw people into him, I think that’s very important to have on your line. For me, personally, it kinda makes me think I need to shoot more. Going into this season, I have to be ready to shoot. He can make those plays quick.”
Marner knows what we all do: regular-season results are no longer enough.
“Back-to-back first-round exits, that’s obviously not something we want to keep doing,” Marner said.
“This is the year we have to step up another level and challenge each other. We’re excited for this moment.”
2 All of the defencemen signings this off-season drill home a truth: Teams are quick to lock up young, talented blueliners, especially those who can play the right side.
With one exception: Jacob Trouba.
The first time Trouba’s contract expired, a financial dispute interrupted the season. The second time has ended in a frosty arbitration ruling.
All of the other Jets’ off-season signings were announced with exclamation marks and highlight reels on social media. There’s no celebratory feel to this one, however:
A week has passed since Trouba’s $7 million ask and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s $4 million counter was sawed in half, and we’ve yet to hear from either party.
Trouba will be unrestricted in 2020. Does he last that long in Winnipeg?
Technically, Trouba could ink a long-term deal with the Jets as early as Jan. 1, but with shutdown righties in their 20s so scarce and knowing the damage a marathon arbitration hearing can do, we expect Trouba’s name to feature prominently in trade rumours (again).
With so much we don’t know, however, it’s difficult to divvy up the blame. Did the Jets offer a fair long-term deal that was rejected? Does Trouba simply want out?
Meanwhile, Trouba’s partner, the talented Josh Morrissey, remains unsigned. The Jets have done such an excellent job drafting and developing, they’ve ran full-steam into a cap crunch before winning a thing.
Key Jets playing 2018-19 on expiring contracts: Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Trouba, Tyler Myers, Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp, Brandon Tanev, Ben Chiarot. Raises will be justified.
(Aside: Is Laine’s agent waiting for Matthews to sign to help raise the bar?)
While we’re tempted to position the Jets as all-in this season, we have learned our lesson from Washington.
The sense is, Linden wanted to remain more patient than ownership with a rebuild that couldn’t start in earnest until the Sedins retired. (No way Linden was forcing them out.)
“We’re in a significant transitional period as an organization. We’ve got good young players in college and a couple in junior,” Linden said then. “It’s a matter of being patient.”
He’s not talking publicly yet, so here are a few answers from that interview that feel relevant today.
SPORTSNET.CA: How emotionally invested are you during the play?
LINDEN: First year, I was trying to figure out after a home game, win or lose, why I was so tired. It’s a long day. Get here early, game ends at 10, you’re here until 11. It’s the emotional rigours of watching the game. You root for your guys. I’m not so demonstrative but it’s tiring. So the next morning, I was wondering why I was so tired. Then you’re going on the road, you’re constantly moving around with the travel. I find myself saying, “I haven’t played a minute and I’m tired out.” Imagine how our guys are feeling after a six-game trip.
Tell me a time you got home thinking, “That was a good day at work.”
There’s been a lot—and they’re not what people would expect. Going through the college free agent process. Signing Troy Stecher, that was a good day. Being in development camp watching drafted players and seeing their improvement. I’ve enjoyed it. Certainly there’s things I haven’t enjoyed. That makes the good things that much better.
What’s this job taught you about yourself?
I was away for six years, doing my own thing. I detached from the world of hockey. What it’s taught me is you never lose the love of the game, the fire that burns for it. Being a player in this market prepares you for the challenge. I knew full well what I was walking into two-and-a-half years ago. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew there was going to be criticism. At the same time, I love the people I work with.
Did you really know how much criticism or stress was coming? How many hours you’d need to invest?
As a player, you don’t really know what the other side is like. You don’t understand it. I was eyes-wide-open on (a) where this team was and (b) the scrutiny that would come with that. This has been a pretty successful market over the last several years, so I knew there’d be high expectations. I’ve been through challenging times—lockouts, strikes, personal contract situations—and I’ve always believed if you work hard and try to do the right things, people will give you the benefit of the doubt. As a player, you leave the rink and you’re done. One, singular focus: play, practice, be professional. After you leave, the phone’s not going off, the emails aren’t coming. It’s an all-consuming business.
Considering that, how much longer do you see yourself doing this?
As long as I enjoy what I’m doing, and I enjoy what I do. I feel very fortunate to be part of an organization that’s meant so much to me. I care about this team, this city, the fans of this team. I understand the business. But at the same time, if someone knocks on my door tomorrow and says, “You’re done,” well, I go back to my old life. That was good, too.
4. Despite Brock Boeser mania, Vancouver’s average home attendance (18,078) hit a 15-year low in 2017-18, per ESPN’s accounting. The city ranked fifth overall in ticket sales as recently as 2013-14. Vancouver has now fallen to 16th overall — the worst it’s ranked since the turn of the century. You have to believe this matters to a businessman like Francesco Aquilini.
5. The institution of player tracking — jersey-installed monitors that could calculate everything from foot speed to heart rate — has been an ongoing topic of discussion within the NHLPA and between the union and the league.
Donald Fehr believes it’s about balancing the interests of the fans, broadcast partners, agents, players and teams. The players are keen to help enhance the viewing experience but are cognizant of an invasion of privacy. Would a player who is tracked to lose energy quickly, for example, have that data used against him in arbitration?
“The new world will likely incorporate some of these things,” said Fehr, who believes all the parties involved are smart enough to work out a fair compromise.
Ducks forward Adam Henrique says more fine-tuning and testing is needed.
“If we do put it in, it can create other issues as far as contract negotiations and things of that nature as guys’ careers progress. It’s a fine line. We’ve had a lot of discussion about it. It can be a great thing if we integrate it into everything we do,” said Henrique, who knows more information could help drive audiences. “So, it’s about finding that in-between that works for everybody.
“I think it’s part of the future, where it’s heading.”
6. Big week for RFA defencemen. Slightly surprised New York’s Brady Skjei (six years) got more term than Matt Dumba (five) in Minnesota. Meanwhile, Anaheim’s Brandon Montour is betting on himself with a bridge deal at $3.39 million per season.
Montour went to high school with Henrique’s younger brother, so he’d been following the defender’s career even before joining the Ducks.
“He’s one of those guys who’s certainly underrated,” Henrique says. “With the D core in Anaheim, it’s so deep, you can kinda get lost in there. Now he’s having his coming-out party and everyone realizes how much potential he has. He’s certainly a huge asset, why that’s defensive core is so good.”
We’re betting the unsigned Darnell Nurse in Edmonton does a Montour-like two-year deal in Edmonton, and then swing big — although he should thank Skjei for raising the price. Skjei’s cap hit is $5.25 million, and Nurse had more goals, points, minutes and better plus/minus in 2017-18 than the up-and-coming Ranger.
7. Getting to watch Matt Dumba up close during the first round of the playoffs versus Winnipeg was a treat. With Ryan Suter injured, he barely left the ice, playing in all situations — and he was battling through an ailment of his own.
“We wish we didn’t have to play him [that much], but he seems to have endless energy,” Bruce Boudreau said at the time. Then the coach launched into an awkward but awesome analogy.
“What I’m trying to say is, he’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s like, if you’ve ever read comics, like the Hulk. The madder he got, the better he got. And with Dumbs, the more he plays, it doesn’t seem to tire him. He gets more into the game.
“I’ve always been saying that to become a good NHL defenceman you need at least 300 games, and he’s approached that this year and he’s learned how to play defence.”
Sensing his wonky Hulk metaphor would get back to Dumba, Boudreau caught up to his player in a Winnipeg hotel lobby and tried to explain before us reporters got to him.
“I was kind of confused, to be honest. I guess by the end of it, I kind of got what he was saying,” Dumba said. “I get it now. It’s like the more I play, relative to the more Hulk gets angry, the more powerful he gets. I got it.”
Good. But does Dumba get angry like the Hulk?
“I get a little angry,” he admitted. “I’ll try to be more aware of what’s going on and not just let the Hulk out and see red.”
8. Here’s an interesting leftover from the article I wrote on Leafs goalie coach Steve Briere.
Briere shakes his head whenever a head coach freaks out when his goaltender gets beat by a “dead angle” shot from the goal line.
“How can that go it? That can’t go in! That’s a team killer!” the coach will scream.
“You want him to stop that in the game? Maybe you should do it in practice,” Briere counters.
9. At the same TeamSnap Coaches Conference, Erie Otters bench boss Chris Hartsburg delivered an impassioned speech on the importance of creating a healthy dressing room environment and how that can lead to on-ice results.
“Culture is everything,” he stressed. “If your culture’s not right, you can’t have success.”
Hartsburg preaches honesty — to the point where he’ll open up to his junior players about his own bouts with depression. He’ll invite them over to dinner, get to know them on a personal level.
To a room full of minor hockey coaches, Hartsburg cautioned, “Never ask a player to do something you wouldn’t ask your own son to do.”
Hartsburg credits reading Todd Gongwer’s Lead… for God’s Sake for encouraging him to open up to players after he’d fallen victim to creating a fear-based team culture. Now he makes all his captains read The Hard Hat: 21 Ways to Be a Great Teammate by Jon Gordon.
10. Hartsburg on coaching Connor McDavid in Erie (then as an assistant): “Fun—that’s the easiest way I can put it, anytime you can coach a No. 1 overall pick. I coached Ryan Murray for four years; he was a second-overall pick. Dylan Strome was a 16-year-old player that year, and he was a third-overall pick. Anytime you’re able to coach players of that level, of that ability, it’s fun. You don’t over-coach them. You let them show you what they do best.
“Connor was an unbelievable kid. He wanted to be one of the boys. He didn’t want to be put on a pedestal. That’s one thing that makes Connor a special person.”
11. Captain Claude Giroux was the first Flyer to reach out to James van Riemsdyk during the UFA courting period — with a simple photo text that spoke 1,000 words (or $35,000,000).
“He sent me a picture of my first year in Philly, us hugging after one of us scored a goal or something,” van Riemsdyk chuckles. “That was all he needed to say.”
12. JVR was asked if he saw captain material in Auston Matthews during their two seasons as teammates in Toronto.
“The one thing that really sticks out about him is, as good as he is as a player, he wants to get better, he wants to find an edge, no matter what it is,” the winger said. He praised Matthews’s quest for improved athleticism and new training techniques. His quiver is never full.
“When you have the skill set and natural abilities he has, and the mindset that he does, it makes for someone who’s a great leader.
“I can really appreciate how he handled himself from Day One. He’s was a highly regarded player and a high-profile guy, so he was pretty polished when he got to us. He knew how to handle the ups and downs.”
13. David Goggins is considered among the world’s greatest endurance athletes. You may know him from such YouTube clips as “The Most Motivational talk EVER!” (which you can — and probably should — watch below).
When the Maple Leafs hosted their prospects this summer, they put the NHL hopefuls through a media seminar, strength and conditioning classes, and advised them on proper nutrition. But arguably the most impacting off-ice activity was inviting in Goggins as a guest speaker.
“It was quite impressive,” Leafs director of player personnel Scott Pellerin said. “He’s an incredible human being.”
A retired U.S. Navy SEAL who took part in the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War, the 43-year-old Goggins is an ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist and triathlete.
It took him three painful attempts, but he broke the Guinness world record for most pull-ups in a day by completing 4,025 in 17 hours, or 4,025 more than Sam Bennett. (Sorry, Sam.)