A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Sadly, we had to push through this week’s column without the aid of a hilarious Bruce Boudreau quote.
1. With defencemen to sign and the annual salary-cap squeeze a-coming, the chatter encircling the Toronto Maple Leafs has been about which of its three mid-priced forwards could get squeezed out to bolster the blue line, not unlike the way Nazem Kadri was traded last summer.
The catch with settling for a fair contract is that the 30 other teams also see it as fair, and thus it makes the player easier to trade. Kadri, Trevor Moore and Connor Brown were three recent Toronto core forwards who didn’t hold the club’s feet to the fire in RFA negotiations.
They settled for a little less because they loved their situation, yet those same team-friendly contracts helped ease their eventual trades.
Each of the three 2020 candidates — Kasperi Kapanen, Alexander Kerfoot and Andreas Johnsson, guys who could potentially earn more minutes elsewhere — has dealt with his share of adversity this season.
Hours before Johnsson collided with Kapanen and suffered a regular-season-ending knee injury Thursday, coach Sheldon Keefe said this of the Swede:
“We think he’s capable of more. I think we’ve seen it at different times when he has real bursts. I’ve also moved him around and played him with different people and all those kinds of things, but I would say that we still haven’t seen the best from him.”
Johnsson comes off the trade-deadline market, and his absence should make moving Kapanen or Kerfoot less likely, too. The Leafs should suddenly be more inclined to keep their winger depth.
What Johnsson’s placement on LTIR does provide, however, is cap space. His $3.4 million hit comes off the books.
And with defencemen Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci hopeful to return before the playoffs, Kyle Dubas has been given another window to spend.
Yes, the general manager has consistently preached a desire to acquire players with term. But there is a growing case for dipping a toe into the rental market and letting a forward trade wait until the off-season, when Johnsson is healthy and — who knows? — maybe Kapanen or Kerfoot have boosted their value through late- or post-season performance.
Here are our power rankings for six potential rental defencemen that suit the Maple Leafs needs: 1. Brenden Dillon; 2. Dylan DeMelo; 3. Sami Vatanen; 4. Erik Gustafsson; 5. Andy Greene; 6. Ron Hainsey.
2. Tyler Seguin will never forget rushing over to the Dallas Stars bench on March 10, 2014, when then-teammate Rich Peverley collapsed mid-game and the atmosphere clouding the dressing room as Peverley was rushed for the hospital.
“There was an emptiness, you know, a worriedness. You’re not sure what’s exactly going on, and you know it’s not good. You just go back to the room,” Seguin recalls.
“I understand why that game is cancelled. I remember for us, we went back in the dressing room and there’s no way we could’ve played. No way I could’ve played.”
Those ’14 Stars can relate to the ’20 Blues — stunned and concerned for Jay Bouwmeester.
May he make a speedy recovery.
For Jay. pic.twitter.com/dAJFMwRJQI
— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) February 13, 2020
3. Since being drafted by Toronto in the seventh round of 2014, the 6-foot-5 Pierre Engvall says the organization had been diligent in encouraging him to add muscle and weight. Lanky guys don’t win puck battles.
Now listed at 214 pounds, the versatile depth forward figures he’s gained 26.5 pounds since draft day. (“I’ve been tall for a long time,” he grins.)
Surely that strength helped Engvall land his two-year, $2.5-million contract extension this week, a relatively easy negotiation that got finalized within about a month.
It also earned Engvall a weighty bit of praise from goalie Frederik Andersen, who first thought of Engvall when asked to name the Maple Leaf capable of firing the hardest puck.
“Pierre actually has a very hard shot. Morgan’s is up there as well,” Andersen said. “Pierre’s is sneaky hard. It comes at you heavy.”
The midseason extensions of Engvall and Justin Holl (three years at $2 million annually), and the Leafs’ consideration of re-signing smart-value pending unrestricted free agent forwards like Jason Spezza ($700,000) and Kyle Clifford ($800,000), underscores the shrinking middle class in Toronto.
A proven defenceman (possibly Jake Muzzin) will get paid. Otherwise, it’s about filling out fringes of the roster with affordable role players who can keep the Fab Four (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares) from breaking up.
“It’s not about money,” Engvall says. “It’s, like, stay here in Toronto and have fun.”
(Apropos of nothing, I asked Engvall if Mason Marchment, who once dubbed his teammate “an antelope,” called him that to his face. Engvall smiled: “I’ve always been like skating with an upper posture and I’m tall, so I got some nicknames.”)
4. Leafs starter Andersen is excellent at playing the puck, and new backup Jack Campbell is cut from the same cloth.
He appears even more confident (risky?) in departing his crease to help quicken a breakout, and coach Sheldon Keefe noticed an instance in Campbell’s win over Anaheim when his active nature nearly cost him.
“[I’m] still trying to get a feel for that in terms of its impact, but I like his confidence to go out and get it,” Keefe says. “He’s got some confidence to go out and move it, and that’s a very positive thing for the team to have. I know when we face goalies that can handle the puck well like that out of the net and they’re helping the breakouts and forechecks, it’s challenging.”
As a Michigan kid infatuated with the game, Campbell played forward and defence until about age 10, and he goes back to that for fun in the summertime, doffing the pads and mask.
“Just like you see [Marc-Andre] Fleury wheelin’ around on the ice on off-days and shooting, I’ve always enjoyed doing that,” Campbell says.
“I think I can get a little bit better touch with the puck. and I’ve had some good coaches and mentors. Like Marty Turco. He was always my favourite goalie growing up. Obviously, he played the puck well, and I’m trying to keep working on it each day.”
5. The legacy of Daniel and Henrik Sedin has trickled down to the youngest Swedes in the NHL.
Nineteen-year-old Leafs rookie Rasmus Sandin spent time as a youngster playing in the twins’ off-season training grounds of Modo. He’d spot them around the rink or in the gym working out at Modo’s facilities. Luckily, Sandin says, they often wore Canucks-issued gear stamped with No. 22 or No. 33, so they were easy to tell apart.
“They’re working really extremely hard, and I think they’re really specific in how they’re working out and they know what they want to improve on, so it’s a lot of fun to see them see them close up, how they work,” Sandin recalls.
“I talked to them a little bit here and there, but not too much. I think those two are just, in general, two great guys. No matter if you were 10 or if you were 20 years old, they always came up to you and asked how you were doing.
“That’s not the biggest city, but you still don’t know everyone. And for us, when you’re younger, those are two players that play in the NHL, and you really look up to them.
“For those two guys to just come up and say hi and ask how you’re doing is pretty cool.”
— Molly Burke (@mollysburke) February 13, 2020
Less was written about Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore, who scored in just his second game with his hometown team and has seen more ice time in each of his games with the Kings than he did in any game with Toronto since Nov. 10.
Former teammate and current friend Mitchell Marner was with Moore — whom he affectionately refers to as “T-Dawg” — in Manhattan and heard his pal on the phone. Marner could tell something was up.
After Moore hung up, he told Marner he’d been dealt.
“Shocked,” Marner says of his reaction. “At that point I was already walking out. He was about to hit the shower, so I just gave him a hug. I didn’t know if I was gonna see him before he [left].
“Trevor is a guy I got really close with the last two years, and my girlfriend and his girlfriend got really close as well. Just hanging out a lot with each other. It’s part of the business. It sucks. But hopefully he goes there and lights it up. He’s getting a great opportunity over there in L.A. He’ll play big minutes and play a big role. So, hopefully he does great in his role there. I’m sure I’ll be talking to him quite a bit the rest of this year and going forward.”
— LA Kings (@LAKings) February 10, 2020
7. Bill Guerin put his emphatic stamp on the Minnesota Wild this week, trading Jason Zucker (a solid contributor on a fair, long-term contract), firing the well-respected Bruce Boudreau and threatening more changes if detected quit in his roster.
Resetting the Wild is a Herculean task. That the club is on target to fall just on the sad side of the playoff bubble again won’t do him any favours.
In Zucker, Pittsburgh got the best player in the deal — and rid itself of Alex Galchenyuk, whom Rutherford identified early as a forward he didn’t want.
But Guerin is clearing cap space and getting a first-round pick and a highly touted defence prospect in Calen Addison. The Wild are desperate to get younger and need to stock the cupboards. Acquiring a playmaker like Addison also could make the trade of a coveted roster defenceman like Mat Dumba or Jonas Brodin more palatable.
The good news for Guerin is there should be no urgency to pull the trigger on a trade of that magnitude, unless a contender blows him away with a offer. Options will pop back up in the summer, too.
8. At first blush, John Tavares’s blind assist from one knee to Zach Hyman Tuesday to force overtime against the Arizona Coyotes could be categorized as good fortune or great instinct.
But Tavares broke down his thought process during the sequence (watch below) and gave us a peek into how an elite hockey mind functions.
“[Hyman] called for it, so I had a good sense where he was,” Tavares said. “Because the defenceman [Niklas Hjalmarsson] cross-checked me, I felt he didn’t have time to get a stick down on the ice as quick as he could have. So as soon as I got it, after he knocked me down, I wanted to get it there as quick as I could.”
9. Jacob Trouba made his return to Winnipeg this week, prompting us to check in on his performance since being traded to the Rangers and signing a life-changing contract extension.
The heavily used defender’s offensive output (23 points) and underlying numbers (44.5 CF%) have taken a sharp drop since his 50-point platform year in Winnipeg.
That is to be expected since the 25-year-old is no longer breaking the puck out to one of the deepest and most dangerous forward corps in hockey, and he’s starting just 43.2 per cent of his shifts in the O-zone.
Trouba is also a minus player (dash-10) for the first time in his career and has become more prone to committing minor penalties, but coach David Quinn — preaching patience and positivity — has an explanation.
“We will never judge him by points. His points will just happen because he does have the ability to shoot a puck. He’s got good passing skills; he’s got good vision. What we got him for is to be a guy that can play against top lines and shut people down and be a physical force. He’s done that for us, as well as contributing offensively,” Quinn says.
“When you come to an organization, I guess there’s a little bit of opportunity to get adjusted and be comfortable with your teammates, and he’s certainly going through that. He knew a few of our players before he got here, so I think that made his transition to New York a little bit easier. And he certainly has leadership qualities that any team would look for.”
10. Dig deep into NHL.com’s stats archive and you can find accounting for how many posts or crossbars a shooter has dinged, how many shots he’s fired high or wide, or how many points he’s been stacking into empty nets.
What I find interesting is that there aren’t many snake-bitten guys who could be having monster seasons were it not for those pesky posts getting in the way.
All the post and crossbar leaders are high-end snipers, which reminds us that the points and goals races come down to inches: Leon Draisaitl (11 posts), Elias Petersson (10), Patrik Laine (10), Auston Matthews (8), Mike Hoffman (8), Jakub Vrana (8).
That Petersson tops everyone in missed shots high (17) and is tied for fourth overall in crossbars dinged (three) tells us the Canucks star is aiming for top corners.
11. When Kyle Clifford skated onto the ice for warm-ups in his Maple Leafs debut sans helmet, it marked the first time since in more than four and a half years (since no-nonsense Lou Lamoriello’s hiring in 2015) that a Toronto player had dared doff the bucket.
Ignorance is bliss, and the gritty veteran was just going about his usual routine.
Auston Matthews approved, calling Clifford’s decision to let what little flow he has, uh, flow “a power move.”
Mitchell Marner was cautiously optimistic the new guy had stumbled upon a fashion trend.
“I wish. We’ll see. I saw Matts’ comment as well. We both loved it. Hopefully something will start in that regard, but I have a feeling that they’re gonna try to shut that down,” Marner said. “Maybe no one told him, or no one knew that he went without a helmet, but I’m sure the training staff’s gonna try and cut it out.”
Sure enough, Clifford has been strapped in and protected ever since. He’s not in L.A. anymore.
12. Kudos to the Vancouver Canucks for executing an incredible number retirement ceremony for the Sedins. The newly unveiled era-specific banners are a thing of beauty. Please take note, rest of the NHL.
These era-specific jersey retirement banners are beautiful.
— NHL (@NHL) February 11, 2020