A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Tom Wilson and Zdeno Chara fought to be in this week’s column.
1. Travis Dermott and the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t bring up the idea of a contract extension in the off-season.
“You don’t want to go forward and talk about it,” says Dermott, who was out until Oct. 29 while he recovered from shoulder surgery.
“If we were to talk about it, it would be like, ‘OK, he’s injured. So, is he going to stay healthy? Is he going to be worth whatever?'”
The young defenceman didn’t believe either side would benefit from those types of conversations. So, why push it?
There is an element of show-and-prove here for every Toronto D-man not named Morgan Rielly, as GM Kyle Dubas is taking a patient approach to see how his long list of free-agents-in-waiting perform on an oft-criticized blue line.
Dermott, the RFA under club control, is in a different situation than UFAs Jake Muzzin, Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci and Justin Holl.
Even now, the 22-year-old impending RFA says his next contract is “not even close to my mind” as he adapts to a new system, a new partner (Ceci) and catches up to the league.
As outsiders, we can mistakenly assume that once a player has a clean bill of health, everything should be back to normal.
“It’s still trying to get into my game, still trying to get where I want to be. It’s tough coming off an injury and missing games in this league. It’s going well. The boys are obviously happy,” says Dermott, ever upbeat and engaging.
“So, I think it’s just me getting back to where I want to be playing the game. I’m sure everything else will fall in place.
“It’s not right in front of me. It’s still a long ways away. I got a million other things to worry about.”
Kelly Hrudey smartly pointed out a lesson Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen tried to teach Dermott last Saturday (watch below), and the kid is far from a finished product.
Yet, Dermott’s skating ability, ankle-breaking quick-twitch, and boundless enthusiasm paint him as a keeper for the Sheldon Keefe era.
He must be re-signed before he breaks out, for his strengths suit the future of the game.
“I think we’re really using our speed more now, which is pretty awesome,” Dermott says. “The more you don’t worry about the contract stuff, the more you worry about coming in and playing hard and having fun, it’ll pay off in the end.”
2. Mark Giordano called it.
Calgary’s changes under undefeated interim head coach Geoff Ward aren’t all about musical practices and juggled lines. There are some strategic wrinkles, too.
Prior to Thursday’s comeback victory over the Maple Leafs, the Flames captain said that Ward has the team playing against the rush differently.
Sure enough, it was during a Toronto break up middle ice that the pressured Leafs turned it over, leading Michael Frolik to score the game-winner on a 2-on-1 counterattack.
Giordano was hesitant to give away state secrets but did say stifling opponents’ charge up-ice early has been a fresh point of emphasis.
“Without giving too much away to the other team, our back pressure has been really good,” Giordano said. “We’re just trying to get the puck out of their hands before they get to our blue line.”
Worked like a charm Thursday:
3. Doug Wilson in in his 17th year as general manager of the San Jose Sharks and this is the first time he fired his head coach in-season.
He has given each of his three coaches a minimum of 361 games (Peter DeBoer’s number) before making a switch.
One can’t help but think the fact the Sharks have nothing to gain from 2020’s draft lottery didn’t factor into the urgency in Silicon Valley.
The Sharks’ unprotected first-round pick goes to Ottawa as part of 2018’s Erik Karlsson blockbuster. Oh, the irony.
We’d be shocked to see DeBoer on the sidelines for long.
He coached the Sharks to the conference final last season despite getting a league-worst .889 save percentage in the regular season. (The next-worst save rate by a 2019 playoff team was 21st-ranked Calgary at .903.)
DeBoer watched the pucks continue to fly past his goalies. If San Jose had average goaltending instead of a 29th-ranked .844 save percentage, DeBoer probably would have kept his job.
4. Another interesting trade-condition nugget, this one reminded to us by the invaluable CapFriendly.com.
By participating in his 30th game this week, New York Rangers rookie Adam Fox triggered an upgrade in Carolina’s return for trading his rights.
The 2020 third-round pick the Blueshirts originally sent to the Hurricanes has now become a second-rounder.
5. Dubious Stat of the Week!
The atrociousness of the Detroit Red Wings is spitting off some ugly individual numbers.
Andreas Athanasiou bottoms the league with the worst plus/minus at minus-33 — an eight-goal “lead” over runner-up and teammate Valtteri Filppula (minus-25).
With 49 games to play, and the Wings not expecting a talent injection anytime soon, Athanasiou has a legitimate chance to set the worst plus/minus mark of the century at knock out Rico Fata, who posted a minus-46 for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003-04.
Hours before puck drop, you could get into the building for less than $100 and see four of the sport’s most electric young stars — Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner — compete in a game meaningful to both sides.
That the Leafs rank second-overall (to Colorado) in average road attendance (18,126) and have a strong foothold in Western Canada makes this all the more surprising.
7. Something we’re learning about Sheldon Keefe.
He won’t hoard his timeout for fear he might need it to challenge.
“I try to utilize the timeout as much as I can. It’s tough to leave it in your pocket when you walk off the bench at the end of the game and think, ‘Maybe I could’ve used it at a certain time,’ so we’re going to be a lot more proactive with it,” the Leafs coach explains.
“It is important. There’s a lot of things that go into it. There’s the whole part of just stalling the momentum of the other team a little bit. But the bigger for me is, I’m trying to find as many teachable moments as I can.”
He’s already used it in multiple third periods on Toronto’s current road trip, most notably last Saturday when the Blues scored to narrow the Leafs lead from 5-1 to 5-2.
The game was still under control, but Keefe wanted to settle his players down and not let things spiral.
“We were talking about trying to play the third period in the offensive zone, trying to win shifts,” Keefe said. “We weren’t doing that, and they score, so it’s a chance to stall the momentum a little bit and then also just a chance to talk to the team and reflect on how we started [the period].”
Several players noted that it was a smart decision.
8. With Mikko Koskinen enjoying an above-average season in the NHL, and a handful of clubs searching for better goalie depth, we wonder if anyone in North America is following Ak Bars goaltender Timur Bilyalov.
Last month, the undrafted 24-year-old broke a KHL record by going 316 minutes and nine seconds without surrendering a goal. He’s 10-1-2.
Bilyalov’s ridiculous .957 save percentage leads the league (only 16 games played), and his .930 save percentage last season (38 games) wasn’t shabby either.
A name worth monitoring. Here are some highlights:
— ХК Ак Барс (@hcakbars) November 27, 2019
9. The Bruins held a reunion in Boston for the 2011 Stanley Cup champions during their run to the final last spring.
Tim Thomas, curiously, did not show up.
Rumours and theories floated fast, but the word concussion never came up.
By coming forth to discuss his brain injuries this week, Thomas served a heartbreaking reminder that we don’t really know what people are dealing with.
10. Vancouver phenom Quinn Hughes on honing his chops in the Greater Toronto Hockey League: “It was really hectic in the GTHL. I don’t think there’s a league like that anywhere else in North America – you see all the players that come out of there.
“A lot of craziness. A lot of crazy parents. But it was good. I’m fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity to play there with all the good players. I mean, I know four or five guys off my [minor] team that are playing pro hockey now, so it’s pretty cool.”
11. Spoke to J.T. Miller about getting elevated from more of a role player in Tampa to riding shotgun with the explosive Elias Pettersson–Brock Boeser duo in Vancouver.
“I’m not trying to be a different player, no matter what line I’m playing with. I just kind of play my game,” Miller said. “We’re winning some games, and it feels really good around the room. I feel pretty good about what we’ve done so far.”
Miller is reaping praise from teammates as Vancouver’s dressing-room DJ, and he always cranks the volume to 11. (This week’s selection: Christmas music! Seriously.) And he’s savouring a chance to play a key cog in one of the NHL’s deadliest power plays.
“Execution is all of it. Confidence is all of it,” Miller says.
“If you’re not feeling confident, you tend to not execute as well and you grip your stick a little tighter. The power play’s gotta feel good about itself and work hard and take pride in it, because it can really change the momentum of the game.”
12. Oskar Lindblom had a share of the Philadelphia Flyers’ goal lead (11) and was in the throes of a career year for a dangerous team.
He’s only 23. Cancer has ended his season, and he’s not signed beyond June 30.
All of hockey wants to see him beat this.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) December 13, 2019