32 Thoughts: All eyes on Blackhawks’ Kane, Toews heading into new year

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. (Paul Beaty/AP)

Kings goaltender Cal Petersen came on in relief of Jonathan Quick in Seattle’s insane 9-8 victory over Los Angeles on Tuesday night. He gave up the last four Kraken goals, including Andre Burakovsky’s overtime winner.

Watch Petersen’s reaction after each Seattle goal.

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Honestly, it’s tough to see. That’s a goalie struggling with confidence, unsure in his pads and searching for answers he can’t find. No making fun here, it’s an awful place to be.

Still, it was stunning to see the Kings put him on waivers Wednesday. He has a winning record and a lot of years ahead of him at 28, but his backloaded contract ($11 million of the $15M is due to him the next two seasons) makes it a longer bet he’s claimed at 2 p.m. ET Thursday.

Los Angeles plans to send Petersen to the Ontario Reign of the AHL if he clears, simply to get him more reps. There is no more time to experiment in the NHL since his partner between the pipes, Quick, is struggling as well. Natural Stat Trick has the Kings seventh in expected-goal percentage at five-on-five, but they are 28th in goals against and six points ahead of Minnesota, Nashville and St. Louis for the playoffs — although, those clubs have multiple games in hand while they sit just outside the wild card spots.

Part of me wonders if this is also intended to be a firecracker into the Kings’ dressing room. They took a big step in 2021-22, gave Edmonton everything the Oilers could handle in Round 1 of the playoffs, and have several prospects praying for expanded roles on the roster. Petersen’s an established player, and his removal would certainly send a message that no one in that locker room should be comfortable.

Los Angeles is one of the few teams with a surplus of right-side defenders, something the Kings will address. The exact timeline is uncertain, although they recognize there must be a wider opportunity created for Jordan Spence by next season at the latest (Spence was called up Tuesday after recording 16 points in 17 AHL games). They are looking for a left-hand shot on the blueline and have been linked several times to Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun. The Kings have what the Coyotes would want, but there’s zero guarantee it happens.

We’ll see how this develops, but Los Angeles has already sent a message: expect the unexpected.

1. There’s no guarantee it will occur, but I do believe Chychrun let Arizona know he prefers to be dealt to a contender.

2. All the best to Kris Letang, who, for the second time in his NHL career, suffered a stroke. “We are all concerned for him,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s a scary word.” The Penguins bent over backwards to make sure everyone knew this stroke was less severe than the one that kept him out of the lineup for two months back in 2014. This will be zero surprise to anyone who knows the defenceman, but Letang apparently wanted to play Tuesday against Carolina — only to be told that wasn’t going to happen under any circumstances. There is a belief he can return, but the timetable is uncertain. Betting against him is a bad idea.

3. Good line on Wednesday about Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews: “Right now, there’s more talk from people who can’t make it happen than from people who can.” Expect this to gain traction in the new year, with more clarity on what (or where) both players prefer. On some level, I think Kane in particular would like to take a run at some of Stan Mikita’s franchise records (games played, assists and points). Therefore, there were rumours he might prefer to play out the season in Chicago and decide his future in free agency, but several sources threw cold water on that idea. As you can imagine, there’s been no extension talk in either case. 

4. It is an extremely difficult puzzle to piece together, but I do think Florida would have interest in Erik Karlsson. Not sure how it could happen, though.

5. During Evander Kane’s excellent After Hours segment on Nov. 19 with Scott Oake, the Oilers winger indicated he has yet to recover feeling in his thumb from the severed nerves suffered during the gruesome skate cut in Tampa Bay. I’ve followed up on that, and a couple of doctors indicated that is not unusual and not — at this point — a cause for concern. It can take a while for that to return. At this point, his timeline is unchanged. 

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6. The Oilers were looking for depth forwards with an edge, but have also indicated they think they’ll be better when several of their injured forwards — not just Kane — return. They don’t seem inclined to make a move simply for the sake of doing it, although opponents feel they are noticeably less nasty without Kane.

7. Toronto’s on an excellent run despite a banged-up defence and goaltending that just recently returned to full health. The Maple Leafs are fourth in the NHL just weeks after we had the entire organization looking for new jobs. They have time to let this play out, but it’s safe to say they will save their best assets for whatever they feel they might need on the blueline. There’s the possibility of adding a left-shot scorer, but that’s not the priority and I think they’d also like to show Matthew Knies there’s a path when he’s ready to leave NCAA Minnesota.    

8. Alex Formenton must sign a contract by 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, or he cannot play in the NHL this season. No clarity into the 2018 World Juniors investigation is expected by then. A few weeks ago, there was some belief he’d be traded and resume his NHL career in another city. We will see what happens in the next 24 hours, but that belief has dissipated.

9. It sounds like there’ve been conversations about how things should proceed in Philadelphia. It’s not what everyone wants to hear, but the smart play is to go for the best draft pick possible. There’s a desire to add some veteran help among all the injuries, specifically Artem Anisimov, who is at Lehigh Valley in the AHL. But the organization is at 50 contracts, so a spot must be cleared to sign him to an NHL deal. We will see if the Flyers make a move to create that room. 

10. On Pat Verbeek’s latest podcast — “The Beeker” — the Anaheim Ducks general manager told host Alexis Downie it remains his plan to evaluate the team’s coaching staff at the end of the season. “We’re early in this process,” he said. “You look at 20-year-olds playing in the minors, some of those players don’t start reaching their stride until January, believe it or not. It’s hard for them to figure things out. We’re kind of in the same process here with some of our younger guys, so I’m giving the coaching staff and the players time, give them some runway to figure things out.” 

11. If you’re so inclined, go back and watch the cat-and-mouse game between Winnipeg’s Rick Bowness and Colorado’s Jared Bednar on Tuesday night in the Manitoba capital. With home ice and last change, Bowness keeps his top line away from Nathan MacKinnon as much as possible. Cole Perfetti, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler were dominant in the 5-0 win, scoring twice at five-on-five with Mikko Rantanen on the ice, but generally, Bowness kept the heavy lifting away from them. It paid off.

12. One Jet said playing for Bowness is like playing for your grandfather: “He doesn’t get mad at you, just disappointed.”

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13. I get lots of DMs about the New York Rangers (my DMs have to be the least exciting on Twitter). I really think they are trying to be patient, hoping that some who played important roles on the road to the Eastern Conference Final last season rediscover that form. Igor Shesterkin should be the least of anyone’s concerns, but it’s always an adjustment to deal with the weight of expectations once they really arrive. He also played a career-high 73 games last year (including the playoffs). Shorter summer, higher expectations. Sometimes that’s hard to navigate the first time you experience it. And he’s not the only one.

14. There is definitely going to be something done in the aftermath of the Jason Robertson goal when Connor Hellebuyck’s mask was knocked off last Friday. Maybe it’s as simple as a more aggressive whistle, since GMs recognize goalies need to be protected. In the days since that occurred, there’s also been a demand to make sure “mask-off” doesn’t get abused or become a strategy. Last season, St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington received a delay-of-game penalty for removing his mask in a game against the Jets. Another suggestion was making a chin-strap mandatory — an attempt that failed in 2014. Goalies refused that as part of the equipment slimdown. “Goalie Gear Nerd” on Twitter made an interesting point, that this wouldn’t work anyways because of the way the mask is designed to fall under contact.

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Whatever the case, GMs will want some level of assurance that things don’t swing too far the other way. Fans are excited by goals and the league average save percentage (.905) is on pace to be the lowest in 16 years.

15. Another issue is nets coming off, which is already on the league’s radar. It came up at the recent GM Meetings with everyone asking for more data before any decisions were made. One GM texted that he didn’t want to hear any excuses about pegs or some arenas having weaker ones than others: “Call a penalty, then it will stop.” One broadcaster asked the ice crew at his arena and was told there is indeed a difference from building to building, that some drill deeper and/or use a Shop-Vac to do a more thorough job of draining water from peg holes. But I do think penalties are going to come.

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16. The NHL, its security team and NHLPA are going to make sure throwing stuff on the ice does not become a common occurrence after it happened twice last week. This one might be on the radar at the Board of Governors meeting on Dec. 12-13.

17. It was funny that New Jersey’s game ops crew played the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” when the third goal was disallowed last week against Toronto. First two lines: “I can’t stand it, I know you planned it, I’m gonna set it straight, this Watergate.” That’s really good.

18. Penalty-kill stats go back to 1977-78. Only three times has a team been below 70 per cent on the PK — 1978-79 Washington (69.7), 1979-80 Los Angeles (68.2) and 1982-83 Los Angeles (68.6). This year, four are below that baseline: Seattle (69.7), St. Louis (69.4), Anaheim (66.3) and Vancouver (66.2).

19. Seen a few notes about how American Thanksgiving passed with six teams in a playoff position who didn’t make it last year. That’s 37.5 per cent, a good number. It’s not a record, and there’ve been three times in the past eight years where seven teams made the playoffs after missing the season before: 2014-15, 2016-17 and 2017-18 (which included expansion Vegas making the Stanley Cup Final).

20. During a previous life, my father was a developer, so I’m somewhat familiar with city councils, building controversies and referendums. On Tuesday night, Tempe City Council voted 7-0 to support the Arizona Coyotes’ arena and entertainment-district proposal. The public referendum to decide the project’s fate is scheduled for May 16, 2023. I’ve got no issues with this; let the people choose. The next major step, however, is phrasing the question. This will be critical. I’ve seen huge battles during this process. Is it as simple as: “Do we do this?” That benefits the Coyotes. Or, does someone fight for more detail about the costs/tax breaks? That could make it more challenging for them. It doesn’t get as much attention, but those with real skin in the game know how much phrasing matters.

21. The NHL Alumni will honour Dave Keon at a luncheon during NHL All-Star Weekend. Great to see Keon in public around the game more.

22. Years ago, I was in a scrum where Michael Jordan pointed at a reporter’s feet. He made it very clear he considered shabby shoes a major stylistic flaw — especially if the rest of your outfit sparkled. That stuck with me, but there were times I let it slide. Once was during a trip through Pearson Airport, where Ron MacLean, Don Cherry and Greg Millen told me I needed an immediate shine — that the scuffing on my footwear was unacceptable. So, it became a regular routine, something I looked forward to with the friendly people at Walter’s Shoeshine. On a recent trip to Montreal, I learned that one of the managers, Sabbir Atcha, passed away last year. Was really sorry to hear that, always enjoyed seeing him. But I’m glad to see his relatives continuing the airport presence.

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