A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. We resisted for so long, but the longer this contractual rift drags on, we’re reluctantly buying in to the notion the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ cap outlook may be better served by trading William Nylander.
Considering the rising cap ceiling, Auston Matthews isn’t taking a penny less than Connor McDavid, is he? Mitchell Marner is now undisputed as priority Number 2, right?
Albeit exclusively against non-playoff teams thus far — Saturday’s tilt in D.C. will be a truer test — the NHL’s most dangerous offence has averaged five goals a night over five games.
Do they want what Nylander will add: another wicked shot, a second-unit power-play weapon, more creative playmaking? Sure.
Do they need it? Um, it’s probably not high on the wish list for a team giving up the eighth-most goals (four per game) and operating with the sixth-worst save percentage (.870).
Still, Nylander’s value, trade or not, goes way up if he’s a fixed cost — and the Leafs won’t be hamstrung by Nylander’s price until 2019-20, when Matthews and Marner get raises and Patrick Marleau is still on the books.
This past summer, Carolina had to give up two unsigned RFAs (Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm) to land Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland from Calgary. Part of the appeal from the Hurricanes’ perspective was Hamilton’s cost certainty — something Nylander can’t bring, yet.
It would be painful to draft and develop a 60-point stud with the hair of a god and then deal him away before he hits his prime. The sides have seven weeks from today to shake hands.
We still firmly believe both Kyle Dubas and the Nylander camp want this to work.
If — big if — it doesn’t, here are six goal-hungry Western Conference franchises (and their D targets) Dubas may want to call about a blockbuster.
Just spit-balling here…
1. Arizona: Nicklas Hjalmarsson, Jason Demers, Jakob Chychrun
2. Minnesota: Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon
3. Anaheim: Josh Manson, Brandon Montour
4. Edmonton: Darnell Nurse (imagine Nylander might be an upgrade on Connor McDavid’s wing from Ty Rattie, and the pressure in Oilersville got heavy fast)
5. Vancouver: Chris Tanev, Alex Edler
6. St. Louis: Colton Parayko
2. Lost in all the (justifiable) chatter about the Maple Leafs’ impending big-ticket RFAs, Marner and Matthews, is that the Colorado Avalanche also has a double helping of RFA forwards who are eligible for juicy raises right now.
It’s no secret the club has a recent history of cutting bait with star forwards with plenty of gas in the tank (see: Paul Stastny, Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene).
Mikko Rantanen has stormed into the season with seven points in four games. Nathan MacKinnon’s 21-year-old wingman should be in for another monster campaign, so Joe Sakic would be wise to extend him ASAP. His price is only going up.
Not far on Rantanen’s tail is 24-year-old Alexander Kerfoot, the NCAA product who neglected his draft team, New Jersey, and chose the Avs as a free agent last summer.
Kerfoot has had issues committing minor penalties in the early going here, but he has five points in a week and should improve on last year’s nice 19-goal, 43-point rookie showing.
3. For the NHLPA to even appeal Austin Watson’s 27-game suspension for domestic assault was, at the very least, tone deaf.
That an independent arbitrator then reduced Watson’s ban to 18 games Thursday — on International Day of the Girl, because irony! — is an ugly reflection on the PA, the arbitrator, and (deserved or not) the league.
Surely some issues are a little more important than a depth forward’s ice time.
The Predators’ statement suggests the club wants to distance itself from this PR debacle.
“Our organization was not involved in the appeal of Austin Watson’s 27-game suspension,” it read. “Our focus has and will continue to be the health and well-being of Austin and his family.”
A stronger stance would be to impose an added team-issued suspension. We think David Poile’s team could make the playoffs without Watson for nine additional games.
I’m all for second chances, but deciding that, hey, putting your hands on a woman is 18-games bad but, on second thought, maybe not 27-games bad is a horrible message to send.
It’s embarrassing for the individuals involved and a sport that, on the surface, claims to be for everyone.
Reading the details and quotes from the court reporting of the incident makes us sick to think a reduction in punishment was the best choice here.
4. After interviewing Sam Gagner this week about his being cut from the Canucks, I was surprised to learn of an additional detail he revealed in Friday’s appearance on Vancouver’s Sportsnet 650 (listen below).
Eleven days after waiving Gagner, Jim Benning still hadn’t spoken to his player, a guy signed for two more seasons. Instead, the bad news was relayed through Gagner’s agent.
(Update: Benning and Gagner did speak after Friday’s interview hit the airwaves.)
As a way to treat a veteran, this seems cold if not unusual.
Curtis McElhinney (more on him later), for example, was let go by Dubas directly. And Gagner said when the Flyers demoted him to Lehigh Valley in 2015-16, GM Ron Hextall broke the news man-to-man.
“I’m sure it’s different in every organization,” Gagner said, diplomatically.
I want my boss to look me in the eye when he fires me.
5. Interesting how hockey players pass on tricks of the trade.
NHL journeyman Adam Cracknell, who’s now in Maple Leafs farm system, played defence in minor hockey and right wing in junior.
It wasn’t until he got to Vancouver in 2015, halfway through his pro career, that he was asked to try centre.
“I’m not gonna say no,” says Cracknell, who credits his late-career versatility and adaptability for keeping him employed.
In his nascent face-off days, he’d go head-to-head in practice with Henrik Sedin.
“We had good battles,” Cracknell chuckles. “He’d run me when I’d least expect it. I’d never think he’d do that in practice, but he does. It’s all fun.”
After leaving the Canucks in 2016, Cracknell went to face-off school in Dallas, picking up tips from Tyler Seguin, who himself was tutored in Boston by Patrice Bergeron, one of the greatest face-off men period.
Pay it forward.
6. During a rare interview on Sportsnet 650 Thursday, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini said Henrik (No. 33) and Daniel Sedin (22) will have their sweaters retired next season as part of a week-long Sedinfest that will coincide with the franchise’s 50th anniversary.
7. Here’s a leftover from new Leafs assistant general manager Laurence Gilman this week.
Between being fired by the Canucks and hired by the Maple Leafs, Gilman was a key member of a group commissioned by the NHL to design the Vegas (and now Seattle) expansion draft rules, the most favourable regulations designed for new clubs.
“It was an absolutely fascinating project and one I was incredibly fortunate to participate in,” Gilman says.
“I felt the Knights were going to be a very competitive team. At the end of the process, whether it was through the rules of the expansion draft itself or the deals the were going to be able to cut, I thought they’d be competitive on a nightly basis.”
Gilman noted the the Knights put an emphasis on stocking its cupboard with speed and hockey sense.
“It was pretty entertaining hockey, and it’s hockey people want to emulate,” Gilman said.
“George McPhee and his staff deserve a tremendous amount of credit for how efficiently they managed the situation. The asset harvest they yielded was unprecedented. And I did not anticipate they’d be losing in the Stanley Cup Final, that’s for sure.”
8. Remember the name Nikita Gusev.
By agreeing to take Jason Garrison off the Tampa Bay Lightning’s books during the 2017 expansion draft, Vegas also received a second-round pick, a fourth-round pick, and the rights to Gusev, a 26-year-old forward plying his trade in the KHL.
Now, the Knights’ experiment with Vadim Shipachyov went sideways so fast it could give both sides pause before trying to bring Gusev overseas.
That said, the 1-4 Knights aren’t scoring. Gusev is. The SKA St. Petersburg play-maker was named KHL Forward of the Week and holds the league lead in points — 22 points through 16 games.
Something to keep an eye on.
9. Carolina’s Curtis McElhinney was cut from the Maple Leafs and suddenly ranks top-10 in save percentage (.930) among all 36 goaltenders with at least two appearances, including crease mate Petr Mrazek (.841).
It’s extremely early, but Toronto’s Garret Sparks (one start) has the NHL’s worst save percentage (.803), and Frederik Andersen’s performance (.893) has been nicely overshadowed by all that run support.
The Hurricanes are only using 22 spots on their 23-man roster.
They will consider the idea of carrying three goalies when Scott Darling returns healthy, so McElhinney will find himself in yet another three-way battle for ice time. It looks like this time he’ll have a chance to play himself out of waiver danger.
“Garret had essentially accomplished everything he could at the American Hockey League level, and it was just his time, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” McElhinney, 35, told Dave McCarthy of Sporting News.
“I wanted to believe that I was able to kind of turn back the clock and keep things as they were, but that’s just kind of the nature of the beast. And the role that I’m in now at my age, it’s bound to happen.”
A class act, McElhinney sent Sparks a congratulatory text message Sunday night after the younger goalie won his season debut in hometown Chicago.
“It’s nice to know someone wants you as well,” McElhinney said.
“It’s nice to come here, similar team [to the Maple Leafs], very young with a lot of offensive talent, a little bit of a run-and-gun style right now, but it’s fun to be in a youthful environment with a group of kids who are just here having fun right now and wanting to be the best they can be.”
— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) October 3, 2018
10. Even though it’s been four seasons since 416-game, seven-season NHLer Patrick Dwyer was last seen in the world’s top league, his professional career has persevered, winding him through Sweden, Denmark and now Belfast.
Nothing like a hilarious viral video to answer the question “Where is he now?”
Even though it was deemed illegitimate, I can’t stop laughing at Dwyer’s resourceful #buttgoal (he tried to get that hashtag trending) from last weekend.
The 35-year-old winger has seven goals under his belt (plus one inside his pants) through eight games. If the EIHL officials had a sense of humour, they’d give him eight in eight. Dwyer bent over frontwards for this one:
11. Got my hands on a copy of Mike Commito’s brand-new book, Hockey 365: Daily Stories from the Ice.
The author/historian (and occasional Sportsnet.ca contributor) writes digestible this-day-in-hockey tales for every date on the calendar, and each one fits on a single page. Nice concept.
Here’s what Commito taught me today, Oct. 13: On this day in 1930, the Pittsburgh Pirates packed up and relocated to Philadelphia. The short-lived franchise’s highlight occurred on Boxing Day 1926, when the Pirates and New York Americans threw defence to the wind and combined to make NHL history – 141 shots on goal.
Poor Roy “Shrimp” Worters, the Pirates goalie that night, turned away a record-setting 70 shots and still lost 3-1.
With the Great Depression damaging the Pirates’ attendance, the move to Philly was intended to be temporary. The Philly Quakers went an atrocious 4-36-4, however, and would fold after one season. Pennsylvania hockey didn’t return until the Penguins and Flyers were part of the NHL’s 1967 expansion.
Christmas is nigh. Buy this book for your father-in-law.
12. Your reward for reading this far?