It’s a beautiful bluebird morning in July, the kind of golf weather that settles on postcards and pamphlets, and Ron MacLean misses his putt to talk hockey.
Not miss as in “two inches to the left” or “Dustin Johnson on 18,” but leaves his ball on the green untouched to stroll over when we flag him down and interrupt his round at the Smile Zone Foundation tournament to chat for six-and-a-half minutes — the length of a Coach’s Corner — on a few big off-season NHL topics.
Here are MacLean’s thoughts on five hot summer topics, from the Phil Kessel trade to the newly refurbished Edmonton Oilers. (And we only interrupted his train of thought once.)
On what the Phil Kessel trade means to Pittsburgh:
“It’s great for Sidney Crosby. The challenge with Sid, thinking back to the Vancouver Olympics, is figuring out who to play with him. Finally after about three games, coach Mike Babcock said, ‘Sid, who do you think?’ And he said Eric Staal and Jarome Iginla. I see Kessel as maybe that triggerman that Sidney needs.
On 2015’s biggest free agent, Mike Babcock, moving to Toronto:
“Mike Babcock is a big believer in ghost rosters. He doesn’t want too many of the same players. I’m not sure the Leafs had too many other Kessels, to be honest. Toronto will assemble a team in Mike Babcock’s version of teams.
“Mike didn’t want Marty St. Louis, who was the leading scorer in the National Hockey League [in 2013] to go to the Sochi Olympics because he had set out a roster of what he had in mind. He told Steve [Yzerman]: ‘You can pick him, but I won’t be able to play him.’ And Yzerman drafted according to Mike both at Sochi and Vancouver.
“In Vancouver at six in the morning, Yzerman called him and said, ‘Are you up?’ Mike said, ‘I’m a coach. I’m always up.’ And he let him make the final selection on forwards. Mike took Jonathan Toews and put him on the checking line with Rick Nash and Mike Richards—very unconventional. That’s what’s happening in Toronto: Mike’s doing the ghost roster as he sees fit.”
“A glass of wine or a beer, and I think in two years they win the Cup. That may be a little eager, but I don’t think more than four.” — Ron MacLean, high on Edmonton
On the Maple Leafs playing moneypuck this summer:
“I’m sure every guy in hockey would say the same thing: If you can figure out a way to get that Auston Matthews, [do it]. For the second year in a row we’re going to have a player [enter the draft] that’s of that kind of ilk.
“Babcock’s a problem because he’s got a reputation, as Grapes said on Coach’s Corner, he’s going to make them a better team. He’s got an uncanny ability to get teams to win one-goal games. If you look at Team Canada’s history in the Olympics, they won the gold medal 3-2 in Vancouver in overtime, and they beat Slovakia 3-2 in the game prior to that. Last year they beat Latvia 2-1 and the U.S. 1-0. He plays tight games, and Kessel doesn’t fit into that.
“Who knows? There are so many variables. But if you’re looking for a quick fix in Toronto, the kid Matthews seems to be it.”
On the Edmonton Oilers’ 2015-16 playoff hopes:
“Fantastic. I think for sure playoffs. I tell you who’s going to be lights-out this year is Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.
“They went over to the World Championship and played with Crosby, which is similar to Messier and Gretzky. Not that they needed any encouragement but those two Oilers flanked Mario Lemieux at the crucial moment of the Canada Cup in ’87. Now you have two Oilers flanking Sid to a gold. You watch Eberle take off. He’s already been great in international hockey, but I think this is going to be his year, Taylor Hall’s year.
“And Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse will fit in. Gimme a glass of wine or a beer, and I think in two years they win the Cup. That may be a little eager, but I don’t think more than four.
On Tampa Bay Lightning fans’ concern over Steven Stamkos’s pending free agency:
“Of course you should be worried. But I do think they love the coach there, Jon Cooper. Yzerman and Cooper and Stamkos—that’s a pretty good triumvirate. I can’t see that being broken up. But having said that, they lost [Martin] St. Louis, and that was a huge hole for [Stamkos]. Brad Richards got traded out of Tampa [to Dallas in 2008], which is a crazy thing. But no, I think Stamkos re-signs.”