A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. I’d like to publicly deny rumours of a rift between my stomach and a week of Mexican food during the Leafs’ California roadie.
1. Time to start preparing the sales rack.
While there is certainly no rush for bad teams to start making trades, there should also be some deadline game-planning afoot with the worst teams in hockey.
We count eight NHL clubs that have already sunk under .500 and must leapfrog at least five teams to rally for a wildcard spot.
In a league that hands out loser points as freely as bobbleheads, that’s a heckuva tall order. So, even with months left in the season, we’re telling the Sabres, Islanders, Canadiens, Senators, Blackhawks, Canucks, Kraken, and Coyotes to toss in the towel.
Start getting ready to trade expiring assets. Get worse. Improve your odds of landing Shane Wright.
(Detroit, Dallas and California: You’re safe for now, but let’s check back at Christmas.)
Among those organizations that should be taking stock of what they may have to offer the rental market, the pickings are slim. But contenders should start thinking now about good talent worth pillaging from bad teams.
Here’s an early peek at our 2022 All-Trade-Rental Team.
Scott Wedgewood (G): The 29-year-old Arizona journeyman has quietly composed a .920 save percentage through 10 appearances with a generationally awful roster. Decent backup option.
Ben Chiarot (LD): Montreal’s nasty stay-at-home defenceman skates roughly 23 minutes a night on the top unit, comes with a manageable $3.5-million cap hit, and is fresh off a Cup Final appearance. He should be the most coveted guy on this list.
Colin Miller (RD): The Sabres right shot has already put up 11 points and is logging more than 20 minutes a night, mostly against top forwards. He might not crack an elite group’s top four but would upgrade most third pairings.
Zach Sanford (LW): Sanford is only 27. He won a championship with St. Louis as a gritty depth winger, which is where he’d slot on a buyer. He currently has five goals with the Sens and is seeing some action on their top unit.
Chris Tierney (C): We’ll stick in Kanata for this one. Decent rental centres will be hard to come by. A solid 3C, Tierney has five goals this season for Ottawa.
Phil Kessel (RW): The 34-year-old potential Hall of Famer isn’t finding the net like the old days, but the two-time Cup champ still has 10 points in 20 games. Kessel is only minus-2 on a minus-37 team and could be reinvigorated playing games that matter again.
2. Juicy trade proposal floated out by Nick Kypreos this week.
If the floundering Vancouver Canucks (6-12-2) are willing to surrender to a reset and wish to maximize a return, how many contenders would be lining up offers for captain Bo Horvat?
The responsible two-way centre has two potential playoff runs on a contract that carries a friendly $5.5-million cap hit, and the rental market up the middle of the ice should be incredibly thin this season.
When his deal expires in 2023, Horvat will be 28 years old and searching for an estimated seven years near $7 million per season.
Will a long-term commitment to Horvat at that point align with a legitimate contention window for Vancouver?
If not, it’s not so crazy to think this winter could be the best time to move on.
What else does the club have to offer as a trade chip? Tyler Motte? Brad Hunt? Jaroslav Halak? Brandon Sutter?
Compared to a Horvat blockbuster, those returns wouldn’t be in the same ballpark.
3. With Auston Matthews’ bestie, Justin Bieber, fanning out in the crowd and the Maple Leafs ripping a season-high six goals Wednesday at Staples Center, I thought for sure Sheldon Keefe would reward the hottest team in hockey with a greenlight night and a day off during their annual California trip.
Toronto is practising or playing every day during their L.A.–San Jose–Anaheim swing.
“We’ve really just tried to stay in our routine and stay really businesslike,” Keefe explained. “We’ve tried to be very purposeful on this trip, in particular, to stay in a rhythm and a routine. We looked at maybe scheduling a day off [Thursday or Saturday], but we just felt on a trip such as this, where the weather is nice and there are some distractions and things, [it’s best to] just keep the guys busy and keep working.”
Perhaps the Leafs have learned from a couple recent off-days in Florida that yielded less-than-responsible efforts on the ice.
Morgan Rielly agrees with the coaching staff’s strategy.
“I’m kinda with them. The most enjoyable thing you can do is win,” Rielly said.
“Days off are fine if you want to go pick your own thing. But to win games and have the feeling in the room afterwards, that’s plenty more enjoyable than anything else you’re gonna do with your spare time. That’s why you play the game.
“If we’re able to keep our focus here, continue to work hard, continue to be healthy and put the time in here, and keep those wins coming, that’s all we want.”
4. Team Canada’s Sidney Crosby is trying not to follow the day-to-day uncertainty surrounding the NHL’s Olympic participation.
“Some of that stuff you can’t control. I’m preparing like we’re going, and I think that’s the best way to look at it,” he says.
Crosby finds it difficult to condense his experiences in Vancouver and Sochi into words.
“It’s something you have to feel when you get there,” he said. “It’s so unique, not just because you’re playing for Team Canada but you’re representing your country as a whole and being part of the bigger athlete community.
“It’s a rare opportunity. So if you get that opportunity, you try to make the most of it. Just an unbelievable experience.”
Crosby’s Penguins coach, Mike Sullivan, will be in charge of game-planning against his captain in Beijing.
“We’re operating under the assumption that we’re going the Olympics, and we’re doing everything within our power to try to prepare and put the US team in the best possible position,” says Sullivan, who will run the American bench.
Sullivan made a point to reach out to Auston Matthews, whom he’d never met, for a brief Olympic chat on Oct. 23.
The timing of that meeting was a tad awkward since Sullivan’s team had just beat up the Leafs 7-1.
“It wasn’t the greatest of circumstances. I really appreciated that he would take the time just to have a short conversation,” Sullivan said.
“He’s a generational talent. He’s a very elite player. I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with him and get to know him on a personal note.”
5. Here’s Sullivan on the club’s impending sale to Fenway Sports Group:
“Well, I think they did a terrific job with the Red Sox. When you look at the success that team has enjoyed over the last 15, 20 years, since they took the team over, that team has had an awful lot of success. For me, leadership always starts at the top. I would envision them bringing the same type of leadership to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Having said that, I have so much respect for Ron [Burkle] and Mario [Lemieux] in the leadership they brought to our organization and the time that they’ve been the majority owners. So, we’re very fortunate to potentially have two ownership groups that just provide the necessary resources and the leadership that gives us the best opportunity to have success.”
6. So… lemme get this straight.
The Maple Leafs have already played the Rangers, Penguins, Kings and Sharks twice each, but they don’t face the Florida Panthers — whom they’re chasing for the Atlantic Division crown — until March 27?
This odd schedule quirk will see Toronto play 29(!) games against Western Conference opponents before their first meeting with a critical divisional rival.
7. Kaapo Kakko, 2019’s second-overall pick, has three goals and three assists. Alexis Lafreniere, 2020’s first-overall pick, has five goals and one assist. The projected stars are tied for eighth in New York Rangers scoring and getting outproduced by 14 members of the 2021-22 rookie class.
Coach Gerard Gallant has seen firsthand the gradual development of impact players like Jonathan Marchessault, Shea Theodore, and Aleksander Barkov, so he’s preaching patience (internally and externally) with Kakko and Lafreniere.
“You look at those kids and you want more. But their time will come,” Gallant promises.
He notes that Lafreniere’s two-way game is improving and the QMJHL superstar still isn’t benefitting from top-unit power-play reps.
“He was the No. 1 overall pick for a reason,” Gallant says.
Alexis Lafrenière and Jean-Gabriel Pageau dropped the gloves. pic.twitter.com/1XtEGvDozn
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 25, 2021
8. How’s this for baller status?
Thanks to showtime film producer and franchise co-owner Jerry Bruckheimer, the Seattle Kraken are now passing around Davy Jones’s hat from Pirates of the Caribbean as their player-of-the-game charm.
9. Despite getting lit up for a touchdown against the Maple Leafs, Jonathan Quick is on pace to record his best save percentage (.928) since 2011-12, when he won his first Stanley Cup.
Not that the competitive veteran cares.
“The people that pay attention to those numbers, they usually are not watching the games or don’t really have a great idea of what’s going on in the games,” Quick told reporters. “Be wary of the guys who really like to talk about those numbers. They usually don’t know what they’re talking about.”
So, what metrics does Quick look at?
“Wins,” he responded. “You know, f—, wins and points. You want to get wins and points. And if you get enough of them, you get to play in the tournament at the end.
“You win 6-5, you feel good after the game, right? It doesn’t matter that’s what the score was. You lose 1-0, and you’re leaving the game thinking what you could’ve done differently. The more games you play, the more you realize that’s what it’s about.”
Jack Campbell, who studied under Quick, once told me he set a goal of allowing two or less every night because the average score in an NHL game is 3-2.
He’s not wrong. The average goals per game per team this season is 2.95.
10. Word is, Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche did not engage too heavily in off-season contract extension talks with their long list of impending unrestricted free agents: Darcy Kuemper, Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, Darren Helm, Kiefer Sherwood, Ryan Murray, Kurtis MacDermid, Jack Johnson, and Pavel Francouz.
Sakic took a similar wait-and-see approach last season. After some white-knuckle talks, he was able to re-up with captain Gabriel Landeskog but lost goalie Philipp Grubauer to Seattle and had to scramble and pay a hefty price in the Kuemper trade.
The riskiness of this approach is most evident up top. The entire Nichushkin-Kadri-Burakovsky line is playing for raises, and its been excellent.
Kadri was the subject of some mild trade noise over the summer. Now, he’s fourth overall in league scoring (25 points) and leads his team in faceoff percentage and shots on goal.
Of all the UFA centres in the Class of 2022, Kadri could be surpassing Tomas Hertl as the most coveted.
11. Quote of the Week comes from Conway the Machine.
The Buffalo rapper has a new album coming out soon, and I love this sporty bit of braggadocio from lead single “Piano Love”: “Press box at all the games, sittin’ next to the Pegulas”
“Richest in my city, got my neck on Rick the Ruler/ Press box at all the games, sittin’ next to the Pegulas.”
12. Excellent job on the TNT broadcast with a mic’d-up Auston Matthews during Wednesday’s blowout of the Kings.
Interviewing the player while he goes through his warmup routine as opposed to pulling him off to the side is a nice change, and Matthews’ reactions to his own goal and Jason Spezza’s were wholesome and priceless.