A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. EBUG-free for 14 days and counting!
1. One of the highest-scoring clubs in the league has another one coming.
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson is absolutely lighting up the Ontario Hockey League, averaging 1.2 goals per game over a 44-game span.
Robertson hit the 50-goal mark in Game 43 with a short-handed, game-winning beauty in a hat-trick effort.
Even better? Only 12 of Robertson’s snipes have arrived on the power play, six have been shorties, and 10 have been game-winners. In addition to overall goals, he leads his junior circuit in short-handed and winning goals as well.
“This is not like Nick has had a good season. Nick’s an elite goal scorer. That’s what he is. One of the hardest-working players you’ll ever see,” Peterborough Petes head coach Robert Wilson told Lead Off Thursday.
“You’re banking on, as a coaching staff, that Nick is scoring a goal a game — and he doesn’t let you down that way.”
Robertson’s OHL-goal-leading campaign has been all the more impressive considering Wilson has constantly juggled the 18-year-old’s linemates and the kid missed a month of action to represent the U.S. at the world juniors.
Wilson explained that Toronto has monitored the 2019 second-rounder’s progress closely, even sending Barb Underhill across the 401 for power-skating sessions.
“They’re pretty on it,” Wilson said. “Leafs fans will definitely hear about Nick.”
Toronto’s general manager, Kyle Dubas, tweeted his congratulations to Robertson this week and took a moment to praise his prospect when the executive met with reporters at the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.
“He’s had a great season,” Dubas said. “With his work ethic, he’s only going to continue to push himself to get better.”
Robertson himself has been thinking about how he’ll fit into the Maple Leafs’ system since draft day.
“They play my style. They play a big skill game with Matthews (and) Marner. I’m not saying I’m that calibre of player yet – I hope to be – but there’s a lot of skill,” said Robertson, back when he was turning heads at development camp. “So it’s a great spot.
“I don’t think size is a factor. I think Toronto doesn’t see it as a factor. They’re a lot about skill and puck possession and hockey IQ. And that’s what I bring.”
2. When the Maple Leafs arrive at the rink on game days, they always discover that Santa has left an educational gift in each of their stalls: A preloaded, personalized iPad slapped with a blue leaf decal stamped with their individual sweater number.
The tradition began during Toronto’s playoff series with the Boston Bruins last spring and has continued throughout this season.
“What exactly is on the thing?” we wondered.
• An edit of each skater’s own shifts from the previous game.
• A breakdown of the night’s opposing goaltender with his tendencies and weaknesses.
• The opponent’s power-play and penalty-kill formations and strategies, for those on special teams.
• The opposition’s breakout, neutral zone and forecheck inclinations.
• Face-off tendencies of the opponent’s centremen, for those who take draws.
• Aspects the Leafs should key on for that game.
• Heart-rate monitoring software.
• Skills development drills.
Each player is left to his own devices (hey-oh!) to use his iPad when and how he chooses.
“Depends who you are, Alexander Kerfoot says. “Some guys, for sure, if it’s too much information, then they’re overthinking it. It’s better for them to just get out and play. Other guys want all the information.
“At least I know it. If I make a mistake out there, it’s on me. But I like to be prepared. I don’t think I overthink it. The more you know, the more comfortable you are, and the more you can let your instincts take over on the ice.”
Kerfoot leaves the iPad in his stall after the morning’s skate or meeting, returns to the rink post-nap well before puck drop and goes through it, focusing mostly on the face-off scouting report and any changes Sheldon Keefe has made to their Leafs’ own plan.
“It definitely helps. Probably some games more than others,” says Kerfoot, who relied on the tool heavily in the season’s early days. He was the new guy, and he was trying to take in as much as he could.
Kerfoot’s former club, the Colorado Avalanche, used the same XOS ThunderCloud system for digital pre-scouts, but the Avs weren’t served with their own preloaded tablets alongside their morning coffee.
Fellow centre John Tavares picks up the 91 tablet to drill down on the face-off scout and pays close attention to the special-teams info. He’s also brought his iPad on the ice with him during practice to keep an eye on his heart rate and making sure he’s pushing himself hard on a workday and not overexerting himself on a recovery day.
For, say, a Western Conference club, he might invest more screen time because it’s an opponent he seldom sees. For other games, he’ll scale back and lean on his own experience.
“It gives you as much information as you want or as you need. It’s a great tool to have,” Tavares says. “Some guys are on it in between periods. It just depends on the way you feel. Sometimes I feel like there’s too much information, and it’s just nice to just go out there and trust your instincts.”
3. Jake Casey, everybody. Fathers, hide your daughters:
4. Precisely four weeks out from the conclusion of the regular season, here are my major individual trophy leaders.
Hart: Leon Draisaitl
Norris: John Carlson
Selke: Brad Marchand
Vezina: Andrei Vasilevskiy
Calder: Quinn Hughes
Lady Byng: Teuvo Teravainen
Jack Adams: Alain Vigneault
Jim Gregory: Joe Sakic
(Note: Writers don’t get a vote on top coach, goalie or GM.)
5. The NHL’s salary cap is projected to rise from $81 million in 2019-20 to somewhere between $84 million and $88.2 million. That $4.2 million is a wide range, enough to accommodate a top-four defenceman like Oscar Klefbom, Jonas Brodin, or Josh Manson.
It could also mean the difference between giving one of your impending UFAs the raise he’s gunning for or letting him walk and find his riches elsewhere.
Every GM wants more salary to play with, but cap-tight teams facing major decisions with key contributors are probably praying the ceiling gets pushed as close to $88.2 million as possible.
The Vancouver Canucks (Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev), Washington Capitals (Braden Holtby), St. Louis Blues (Alex Pietrangelo), Arizona Coyotes (Taylor Hall or suitable replacement), and Boston Bruins (Torey Krug) stick out.
6. Markstrom had earned the Vancouver Canucks points in four straight games before going out long-term with his knee injury.
Since the goalie has been sidelined, the Canucks have gone 2-4. Friday’s first regulation win since Markstrom’s injury — a biggie over Colorado — is hopefully one to build on.
As a franchise — and a city — expecting to build on a campaign with so much excitement and promise, how can Vancouver not re-sign Markstrom and roll into fall with its fate in the hands of Thatcher Demko?
(That’s no slight to Demko. Markstrom wasn’t ready to carry the load and be a No. 1 when he was 24 either.)
7. Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith made 36 NHL appearances last season and zero with the farm club. He was rewarded with a three-year, one-way deal in 2019 for $3.75 million.
And, as the flip side of the Tristan Jarry success story, he’s played the entire 2019-20 campaign in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the baby Pens. Certainly, this is not how he imagined life as a millionaire.
“I just think he was a victim of circumstance, but he’s an NHL goalie,” says Mike Vellucci, DeSmith’s coach.
Especially when the season opened, DeSmith took his demotion hard. Vellucci describes it as a “Why me? What did I do wrong?” kind of a thing.
For about two weeks, the coach let his disappointed athlete cool. Then he called DeSmith in for a good chat. The coach explained that DeSmith’s bump to the minors was purely circumstantial — it helps the big club’s cap picture that, until July 1, Jarry carries a more manageable hit — and that people would take notice of how he responded to this challenge.
“He started playing great,” Vellucci says. “It’s not what happens to you; it’s how you deal with what happens to you. And that’s what I talked to him about: Which way does he want to go? He’s taken the positive route and worked really hard on his game. I’m really proud of how he’s handled it.”
If Pittsburgh opts not to give both Jarry and Matt Murray juicy raises in free agency this summer, they have a No. 2 in DeSmith who is hungry and under contract. If Jim Rutherford does want to reward both Jarry and Murray, DeSmith becomes intriguing trade bait for one of the handful of clubs that will be eager to shake up their crease.
8. Kudos to the league for easing up on its nitpicking around the blueline and reducing offsides to a touchdown-esque “breaking the plane” determination.
The spirit of the rule was to discourage cherry-pickers, remember? If everyone could turn back the clock, would we not just go back to letting offsides be the official’s call, for better or worse.
Getting mad at refs is infinitely more fun than getting mad at the precious life minutes wasted by video review.
9. The NHL did the right thing by not drafting a batch of new rules and regulations surrounding the buzzy EBUG, a fluke occurrence that happens so infrequently and, it turns out, doesn’t even harm the team you’d think.
If they were going to alter anything about the role, how about making it a paid gig?
David Ayres signed a contract for an amateur tryout (ATO) and was officially paid $0 for his win — although he kept his Hurricanes sweater, and we’re guessing his media tour included a few perks.
“Under this agreement, the Player shall receive no salary, bonus (of any kind) or any other form of compensation,” reads the NHL regular-season ATO contract.
Like a true rent-a-goalie, the Carolina players dug into their own pockets to show some thanks for showing up in a pinch. “Yes, we did give a little bit of money,” Sebastian Aho told Ilta-Sanomat, a Finnish outlet .
Funny: The NHL got its biggest mainstream publicity boost from its lowest-paid player. It probably wouldn’t kill HRR for the league to kick in a bigger stipend to the next EBUG.
Not that he’s in it for the dough, but perhaps Ayres gets some form of compensation down the line. Maybe from his hockey card — which is totally going on my Christmas wish list:
10. Mika Zibanejad scored five goals, including the overtime winner, Thursday. At the time, that was more than 441 NHL skaters had scored all season long. Dude is a star.
And his teammates mobbing only the third Ranger to pop five in one game is everything…
kind of surprise party. pic.twitter.com/LZDM7V8Vzq
11. With Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe still tinkering around with his bottom six as he tries to find the perfect mix for secondary scoring, and Toronto’s offence going dry during its California swing, I wonder if Kenny Agostino gets a call-up and a brief look.
The 27-year-old journeyman (Flames, Blues, Bruins, Canadiens, Devils) has 85 NHL games on his resume but none this season.
Taking off under new AHL coach Greg Moore, Agostino is now the Marlies’ top scorer, outproducing a quartet of teammates who have earned a look with the big club: Pontus Aberg, Nic Petan, Egor Korshkov and Adam Brooks.
“Kenny has been our best player for the last two months. He’s really, really driven the offence for us and even at times when we get down by two goals, he goes out and has physical shifts and gets a couple good hits and brings energy. He’s finding ways to have an impact in every hockey game,” Moore told reporters. “He can absolutely wire a puck.”
With weeks still remaining in the season, the left-winger has already established a new career high in goals (27) and has added 22 assists. Friday’s two-goal performance gave him nine points in six games.
“It feels good,” Agostino said. “We’ve had so many different line combos the whole year. I just think it speaks to the depth of our team really. We have so many forwards that are skilled and can make plays and I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of them like Aberg, Petan, (Tanner) MacMaster as of late, Korshkov. I’ve really kind of played with everyone at some point.”
But not the Leafs… yet.
12. Strombone 1 love.
On Saturday night, Roberto Luongo will become the first player to have his number (1) retired by the Florida Panthers. Fun fact: At the same time, the Panthers will become the first NHL franchise to begin retiring sweater numbers sequentially. No other team began their rafters-hanging tradition with a player who wore No. 1.
Sources say there is no truth to the rumour that the Canucks must chip in $3,033,206 to Saturday night’s retirement party in Sunrise.