A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. My team is unaware this column is being written under the influence of PEDs.
1. We’re certainly not ruling the New Jersey Devils out of the post-season before we have a chance to start stealing snacks from our kid’s Halloween candy stash, but a miserable 1-4-2 record, minus-13 goal differential and last-place standing in the East has people talking.
So, if — and it’s a massive if — Taylor Hall is not keen to ink an extension with a struggling team and the Devils start taking rental calls, we tried to narrow down which clubs would have the resources, the urgency and the supporting cast to facilitate a blockbuster rental like this.
Of course, the real answer is: Hey, who wouldn’t want the 2018 MVP on their roster?
But some competitors are better set up to pull something of this magnitude off should GM Ray Shero start to feel like his hand is being forced.
It’s important to note that Hall carries a $6-million cap hit and zero trade protection. Also, as a rule, any GM is likely to receive a greater haul when trading a superstar if (like Vegas and Mark Stone last season) the player and his new team can agree in principle to an extension.
Here are my licking-their-chops-for-Hall power rankings:
I. Avalanche: We know Joe Sakic can swing big. The Avalanche were aggressive in free-agency bidding but missed out on the big fish. No contender has more projected cap space ($7.4 million).
II. Canadiens: Like the Avs, the Canadiens tried in vain to add a marquee scorer over the summer. Marc Bergevin has an enviable pool of prospects, 2020 draft picks (10 in the first five rounds) and enough cap room to accommodate ($6.4 million).
III. Anaheim: Shero and Bob Murray have an established recent history of trades, and sending Hall out west would mean only seeing him once a year. The Ducks could waste another brilliant season from John Gibson if they don’t find him some run support, and since the Corey Perry buyout, they actually have some cap flexibility ($6.5 million) for the first time in a long time. Anaheim is solid up the middle, new coach Dallas Eakins has them as an early surprise, but the Ducks would benefit immensely from a play-making winger.
2. On the topic of impending free agents, during a radio interview St. Louis Blues insider Andy Strickland shed some light on why Brayden Schenn got an extension done so quickly while Alex Pietrangelo appears to be playing the long game (listen below).
Schenn switched from Newport Sports to agent Ben Hankinson and got a deal done rather quickly, while Pietrangelo remains with Newport, an agency that, Strickland explains, tends to push negotiations to the deadline.
Even with the addition of fellow minutes-munching righty Justin Faulk, no player in the league is averaging more shifts per game than Pietrangelo (30.4).
Although both sides are keen to work something out, Strickland says Blues GM Doug Armstrong wanted to get the deal done “several weeks ago,” but will “not allow any player to hold the team hostage” by a steep asking price, which is believed to be nudging $9 million annually.
As long as the Blues are in the mix, we can’t see Armstrong trading his captain, however, and it’s believed he is prepared to make Petro his highest-paid player. (Forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly share that title currently with a $7.5-million average annual value.)
But how much term do you give to a star who will be 30 years old when the first season of his new deal kicks in?
3. Don’t look now, but offensive defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk is enjoying a resurgence, his four goals as a member of the Lightning already doubling his output for New York over 73 games last season.
“Well, he’s playing with confidence. Coming off the buyout with the Rangers, he wanted an opportunity where he could utilize his skill-set and offensive playmaking,” says captain Steven Stamkos. “He’s fit in great. He’s such a threat on that second power-play unit. He gets shots through. He looks comfortable out there.”
The biggest adjustment Shattenkirk says he had to make moving south for $1.75 million (tax free!) was the pace Tampa plays with compared to his previous employers.
“They want things done quickly. They want plays made quickly, but you have to think the game quickly as well,” the 30-year-old says.
“There were a few other options. This is kind of a reset for me, a chance for me to get back to my game and find that high calibre of production and getting back to a good defensive game that I was capable of earlier, before New York, and I think this was the best place to do it.”
Head coach Jon Cooper, noting the loss of righty Anton Stralman, say the Lighting were fortunate to scoop Shattenkirk up. He sees a kindred spirit.
“You look at our team — we’ve been humbled, we have a bit of a chip on our shoulder. We grabbed a player that probably feels the same way,” Cooper says.
“He’s probably not known for his defensive side of the puck, but he’s a smart player so he always finds himself in good position. He’s kept it simple.”
Shattenkirk says in Washington and, especially, St. Louis, where he thrived, he’s always been focused on a championship.
“That’s been the goal every year and my mindset every year: Stanley Cup or bust. I think I share that with these guys. I share a chip on my shoulder with what happened in New York and what happened to them in playoffs. We both have something to prove, so it’s great being in the room with these guys and being back in that winning culture. When winning is expected, it’s a good pressure to have,” he says.
I wonder if the veteran is being asked to contribute differently than in New York, after signing his monster UFA deal.
“Yes and no. There’s still a leadership role to be filled here. It’s still a young team, when you look at it. The other side of things, there’s less pressure,” Shattenkirk says.
“I’m not the top guy, obviously, and that’s something I’ve been involved with in the past, in St. Louis. It allows you to free up a bit and worry about your own game.”
Whether it’s minutes or money, there is a little load off here — and it’s helping.
“Especially for my situation this year. I’m very focused on this team and winning. I know that my individual success will come along with that. If this team is rolling, everyone gets rolling,” Shattenkirk says.
“When you come into a team like New York, we had so many young guys, so many guys that needed to get moulded, there was a lot of pressure on the older guys to carry that weight as well as perform. Here, everyone does their job and takes care of their business on their own. Because of that, it’s a little more mature and winning team.”
4. It’s one thing for the Minnesota Wild to be undergoing tumultuous times, but the Dallas Stars starting with an atrocious 1-7-1 record?
Scottie Upshall, who looked good in pre-season but didn’t make the Stars’ cut, fired a tweet offering his services after Wednesday’s loss:
Hey @DallasStars , I know a guy who’s FIRED UP and ready to get you guys OUT of that 1-7 FUNK you’re in. He’s 2-0 wearing Victory Green with a Highlight Game Winner!!
— Scottie Upshall (@ScottieUpshall) October 17, 2019
We wrote about the intangibles guys like Upshall bring to a room when the going gets tough.
Even with Dallas taking a pass, Upshall, 36, still has the bug. He would love to go to Europe this season and is waiting on the right fit. Representing Canada at the Spengler Cup is also on his radar.
5. Auston Matthews was thrilled to film his promo sketch with Chance the Rapper, a.k.a. Lazlo Holmes.
“It was great. I’d never really been around somebody like that, so it was pretty interesting. He was just hanging out there all day, and he came in, got right into character, and he was he a natural so it was pretty fun and nice meeting a guy like that,” says Matthews, a fan of Chance’s music.
“He was kind of on a script but he was kinda freelancing too.”
Matthews said he found it hard to keep a straight face. Chance hosts next week’s episode of Saturday Night Live, so expect a return of Lazlo Holmes.
6. It’s hard not to lap up every drop of the Soupman story.
When Ilya Mikheyev scored a beautiful goal in Washington, the rookie’s third, the cameras caught teammates Andreas Johnsson and Trevor Moore doing a soup-eating gesture in celebration.
Apparently, a few Leafs had been doing that to their teammate during the pre-game handshake line to get him pumped up.
“Mickey gets a big smile on his face when we do it to him,” Moore explains.
Moore and Johnsson eating some soup on the bench after Ilya Mikheyev scores pic.twitter.com/OxbDcsq8Wd
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) October 17, 2019
And now Mikheyev’s agent is pitching his client for soup endorsements.
7. Hands up if you had J.T. Miller leading a strong-looking Vancouver Canucks squad in goals, points, plus/minus, even-strength points through two weeks?
What was notable to me was that when the Tampa Bay Lightning rolled through town, coach Jon Cooper brought up the absence of Miller without being prompted, describing him as “a great below-the-dots guy.”
The loss of Miller is one of the reasons why the Bolts sought out the less-expensive Patrick Maroon — to fill that cycling presence a bit.
8. Every time you think the Maple Leafs are probably set on small, skilled forwards, another prospect starts to shine in the lower leagues.
Nick Robertson, the 53rd-overall pick of 2019, is off to a flying start, leading the Ontario Hockey League in goals (12) and even-strength goals (eight). He’s a major reason the resurgent Peterborough Petes have leaped near the top of the standings.
9. Two PED suspension responses from the same organization have never sounded so polar opposite as the ones the Vegas Golden Knights released when Nate Schmidt was banned in 2018 and Valentin Zykov got suspended this week.
Here was the club’s official statement on Schmidt: “While we respect the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program, we strongly dispute the suspension. We firmly believe that the presence of a trace of the banned substance was accidental and unintentional. Based on our conversations with Nate, analysis from independent medical experts and sworn testimony from the parties involved, we believe it is clear Nate was not able to reasonably ascertain how the substance entered his body.
“Nate is an honest person with high moral character and great integrity. We will stand by him and support him during this time.”
And here is the Knights’ Zykov response: “We monitor the nutrition, supplement intake, and overall diet of our athletes on a continual basis throughout our entire season. Valentin knowingly used a banned substance without the consent, recommendation or knowledge of our team. We support the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program and respect the decision here.”
Wow. You have to wonder if Zykov has played his final home game in Vegas.
10. Kudos to Chris Stewart, who went from starring for the Nottingham Panthers in 2018-19 to earning another NHL gig, debuting for the Flyers this week.
The 31-year-old’s former teammates in the Wild dressing room are excited for him.
Devan Dubnyk cites Stewart’s underrated knack around the net and believes he’s as tough as anyone in the league.
“He brings a lot of fun, a lot of energy into the dressing room and around the guys and on the road,” Dubnyk says.
“You know, it was much different when he wasn’t around to compared to when he was. He just brought a lot of fun energy to the group, and he was funny. I’m certainly happy for him just like all his other teammates that he played with.”
11. I keep putting Washington’s John Carlson on my Norris Trophy ballot — last spring I slotted him second, to Mark Giordano — and he can’t quite make the list of finalists.
This has gotta be the year.
Carlson is tied with some guy named Connor McDavid in the scoring race, piling up 17 points through nine games. He leads everyone in assists (14). He’s playing nearly 26 minutes a night, and he has scored two game-winners.
Even better: He’s not padding his numbers on the power play. Only Sidney Crosby and Mark Scheifele can match Carlson’s even-strength point total (11).
The slick fake-pass off the rush he made Wednesday to set up Jakub Vrana was poetry (watch below at the 3:15 mark):
12. Keith Kinkaid is truly the best thing to happen to goalie Twitter since Roberto Luongo…