Weekend Takeaways: It’s time to increase the net size

Damien Cox and Elliotte Friedman discuss all of the top stories from around the NHL, including if Patrick Marleau is on the move, an update on Connor McDavid’s injury and if goalie pads could be getting smaller.

It won’t be on the agenda on Tuesday. Well, not officially.

NHL general managers won’t have larger nets on their list of discussion topics when they meet in Toronto this week, but more and more folks in the business are at least talking about the possible benefits of slightly increasing the size of goal nets as goal scoring continues to drop perilously close to a combined five goals per game.

On Hockey Night in Canada this past weekend, analyst Kelly Hrudey aptly demonstrated that if you just increased the nets by the size of the posts and crossbar so that pucks that hit iron now would go in, you would immediately increase goals per game to about 6.4.

Hrudey, a long-time NHL netminder, says he’s in favour of moving to bigger nets, and when the goalies jump on board, you know you’re on to something.

The argument that this move would skew modern statistics to the point an asterisk would have to be applied liberally to every goal-scoring mark is utter nonsense. It’s the goalies who have skewed the stats by becoming so gigantic anything less than a save percentage of .915 this days is viewed as average or worse.

Check out hall of fame goalie Grant Fuhr’s numbers sometime. From 1981 to 1995, he never had a save percentage of .900 or better, yet he was regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers in the sport.

The goalies are out of whack, folks, not the shooters. But the goalies refuse to scale down to a reasonable size. So make the nets a little bigger and address the balance.

So it sure seems like Dave Branch needs to journey on down to Flint, Michigan today, a lovely drive on a crisp November morning.

What a mess this is today after the bizarre situation Sunday night when the owner, Rolf Nilsen, apparently fired the entire coaching staff after the OHL Firebirds stormed from behind to beat Oshawa, and the players responded by quitting or going on strike or some kind of job action.

It’s like it’s 1966 and the Springfield Indians are walking out on Eddie Shore all over again.

There’s a lot of details to be filled in here, but head coach John Gruden and his staff are in limbo after reportedly being canned in a fit piqued by Nilsen, whose son, Hakon, plays on the team.

Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos owned the franchise for years and played out of nearby Plymouth, but sold the team last year to the Norwegian-born Nilsen, who operates IMS USA Inc., a Cape Coral, Fla., company that is the sales unit for a corporation based in Norway. The company is the world’s leading manufacturer of sliding watertight doors.

The Firebirds are 7-9-0-1, better than some feared they would fare in their inaugural season. Their top draft pick, Ryan McLeod, refused to report and forced a trade to Mississauga to play with his brother, Mike. There are five NHL draft picks on the team, and winger William Bitten is considered a possible first-round pick next June.

There are reports a dispute over the younger Nilsen’s ice time precipitated the problem, but it seems likely this was a long simmering situation coming to a head. Oddly, it would appear Hakon, 17, walked out with the rest of his teammates.

The team’s next game is Friday against Sarnia. With lots of talk about the rights of junior players and possible unionization, this situation is sure to generate a lot of attention.

One of the topics that will be on the agenda for the GMs meeting is goalie interference, specifically whether GMs are happy with the standard being applied when video review is used, and whether referees should be the ones doing the video review rather than the “war room” in Toronto.

The call that wiped out what would have been a record-setting goal by Alex Ovechkin on Toronto’s James Reimer on Saturday night will only add fuel to the fire.

Justin Williams was, upon review, called for bumping Reimer, but it’s an open question as to whether goalie interference calls are being made now that would never had been made before even if referees had seen them.

Sportnet’s Eliotte Friedman reported Saturday night that Patrick Marleau might be on the trading block, although it’s unclear whether the veteran centre has asked for a trade or if the Sharks have asked him to waive his no-trade clause.

Marleau has this year and next year left on a contract that comes with a $6.7 million cap hit. With 15 clubs either using LTIR space or within $1 million of the cap, there will be very few teams that can accomodate Marleau’s contract. This will be interesting to watch.

The 36-year-old forward has four goals and five assists this season.

Detroit, losers to Dallas on Sunday, continue to struggle with the possession game the Red Wings used to dominate.

Veteran centre Pavel Datsyuk is expected to return this weekend, and it will be interesting to see what impact he can have on that aspect of Detroit’s game.

The Wings got seven shots from their defence Sunday, an area of concern for the club. Free agent acquisition Mike Green returned against the Stars for the first time since Nov. 23. He had an assist and was minus-2, and has yet to score in eight games this season.

There’s lots of concern about Pascal Dupuis of the Penguins, who will be checked out back in Pittsburgh this week now that the club’s road trip is over.

Dupuis was checked out in an Edmonton hospital on Friday for a reoccurrence of the blood clot problems he experienced last season, and didn’t play that night against the Oilers or Saturday against the Flames. He’s said he will retire if the blood clot issue returns.

The Pens don’t play until Wednesday when they host Montreal.

It’s a good thing the Minnesota Wild only play 11 games in November, because they may not have winger Zach Parise for any of them.

The veteran forward suffered a sprained MCL last week in a game against Nashville, a relief to Wild officials who feared by the appearance of the James Neal hit that Parise had surely torn his ACL.

He’s listed as “week-to-week,” and the Wild will move Charlie Coyle back from centre to wing to accommodate Parise’s absence.

Back in March, Russian hockey federation boss Vladislav Tretiak blustered that the KHL would not take a break next year to accomodate the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, nor would KHLers be made available to participate.

Turns out that was a lot of hot air.

The KHL, which begins its schedule in late August, won’t shut down for the World Cup, but KHL players selected for the Russian World Cup team will be permitted to go to Toronto and play.

There are only about 30 Russians in the NHL right now, which would make for a very small pool of available players if KHLers didn’t play. Now, the debate internally will be how to split up the roster between KHLers and NHLers, a problem for Team Russia as far back as the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Of all the teams entered in the World Cup, Team Europe seems the likeliest to be a disaster.

At the very least, there are a lot of questions, beginning with the team’s organization headed by German hockey president Franz Reindl.

Former NHLer Miroslav Satan, who lives in Long Island, is the GM, and the coach is former Edmonton bench boss Ralph Krueger, currently a soccer executive in the English Premier League with Southampton.

No one seems to know where the team will train next fall, and the playing roster remains totally unclear. This might be the most intriguing team to watch for the tournament.

William Nylander is off to a hot start with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, and many are wondering how soon he’ll be called up to the parent squad, which has won only two games and is struggling to score goals.

The 19-year-old centre was the first-round pick of the Maple Leafs in 2014 and has seven goals and seven assists in 12 games. The Leafs, meanwhile, have scored 29 goals as a team in 14 games.

But don’t expect the young Swede to get the call soon.

The internal thinking in Toronto is not to focus on whether Nylander is ready, but rather on when the team has progressed enough under new head coach Mike Babcock that it can accommodate Nylander without fear of stunting his development.

The Leafs, last minute losers in Washington Saturday, actually had a decent week, accumulating four of a possible eight points in a tough schedule against Dallas, Winnipeg, Detroit and the Capitals.

The Flames may be turning it around, but the Dougie Hamilton ice time watch is still a peculiar one.

Hamilton, acquired in a big trade with Boston at the draft, currently owns a larger cap hit than any Calgary defenceman – that will change next season when Mark Giordano’s extension kicks in – but is getting the fifth-most ice time on the Calgary defence. Hamilton is getting more than five minutes less per game than Dennis Wideman, No. 4 on the Flames list.

The return of T.J. Brodie has pushed the 22-year-old Hamilton out of the top four, and his game has been filled with errors, contributing to a minus-9 rating early in the season.

There’s the assessment of a big hockey trade when it happens, but it often takes a while for the actual details to make themselves apparent.

Take the March, 2014 deal between the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues in which star goalie Ryan Miller, who returned to western New York for the first time on the weekend, was dealt to Missouri.

According to a breakdown of the trade by John Vogl of the Buffalo News over the weekend, the Sabres just have one small, related piece of the transaction actually in their lineup right now, with other pieces possibly to come.

Miller, who soon after moved on as a UFA to Vancouver, and winger Steve Ott were dealt to St. Louis for goalie Jaroslav Halak, winger Chris Stewart, junior prospect William Carrier, a 2015 first-round pick and a 2016 third-round pick.

Carrier is with the Rochester Americans and has yet to play an NHL game. Halak and a 2015 third-rounder were dealt to Washington for goalie Michael Neuvirth and defenceman Rostislav Klesla. Neuvirth was later traded to the Islanders for Chad Johnson and a 2016 third-round pick.

Johnson is the club’s backup goalie behind Linus Ullmark at the moment, with Robin Lehner still injured. Klesla, the fourth-overall pick of the 2000 NHL draft, never played for the Sabres and is now in the Czech league.

Stewart was traded to Minnesota for a 2017 second-round pick, while the 2015 first round pick acquired from the Blues in the original swap was traded to Winnipeg in the Evander Kane deal.

So for Miller, the team’s franchise goalie, the Sabres have Carrier, Johnson, two 2016 third-rounders and a 2017 second-rounder. Suffice to say we won’t know for quite a while still, until all those picks are made, exactly how the Sabres fared in this trade.

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