31 Thoughts: Why Sabres postponements are cause for concern

Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood collide during an NHL hockey game on Jan. 30, 2021. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

Editor’s Note: On Tuesday evening, the NHL postponed Buffalo Sabres’ games through at Feb. 8 as a result of two players entering the league’s COVID protocols.

• Sabres’ Tuesday tilt postponed after playing Devils
• Taxi squads creating challenging roster crunch
• What’s next in Rangers-DeAngelo situation

He’s currently the men’s basketball coach at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., but, 25 years ago, Shawn Swords cemented himself as one of the greatest players in school history.

I can’t remember which specific Team Canada he was trying out for, but I do remember someone lobbying for his inclusion. The argument: Swords was the type of personality who, if not given an enormous role, wouldn’t cause a problem. He’d bust his butt in practice, keep a great attitude and give you good minutes when you needed them. And he ended up representing his country several times, most notably at the 2000 Olympics.

As the Toronto Raptors’ first head coach, Brendan Malone, once said (paraphrasing): “You need your top four and your bottom four to buy in to what you are selling. If they do, the middle falls in line. If they don’t, you’re in trouble.”

I thought of these examples last week when listening to Edmonton coach Dave Tippett discuss the taxi squad.

“Normally you’ve got one or two guys who are unhappy,” he said. “Now you’ve got eight guys who are unhappy.”

Calgary’s Brad Treliving and Montreal’s Marc Bergevin were furious last weekend when agent Darren Ferris went public with two trade requests — Sam Bennett (Flames) and Victor Mete (Canadiens). We are 10 days removed from a deal that involved three players who wanted out: Pierre-Luc Dubois, Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.

Don’t know if there are any analytics on trade requests, but five in such a short time frame seems like a lot. Not all of these situations are analogous. Three of the asks pre-dated puck drop. But I wonder, how many more are out there?

And how much of it is really the teams’ fault? Through no mistake of their own, not playing this year stinks even more than normal — even if you’re on a club that’s going well. The taxi squad means even more competition for open spots on the active roster. COVID rules make it hard even on those who get to play every night; imagine the stress on those who don’t have the release of competition. While the AHL’s upcoming startup could help that, being sent down can also mean a significant cut in salary.

If you’re not playing, are you willing to be patient?

All 31 rosters feature young players desperate for action. Mete’s first game was Monday. Edmonton’s Evan Bouchard could get his first ice time Tuesday. Toronto’s Rasmus Sandin hasn’t played in almost a year. Developing pros like Riley Stillman (Florida) and Eeli Tolvanen (Nashville) dressed once, the latter scoring in his season debut Monday night. How many goalies haven’t faced a shooter from another organization in months?

It’s another challenge in a season full of them.


1. You don’t want to panic and call it the nuclear scenario, but it’s incredibly concerning that Buffalo’s game with the Islanders on Tuesday night is cancelled days after the Sabres played New Jersey. The Sabres are very upset, with the Devils now on hiatus after close to 10 positive COVID tests.

Last week, the NFL and the Center for Disease Control co-published a scientific paper detailing the league’s processes during this season. One of its critical findings was that their information indicated teams were not transmitting COVID to each other during games.

“There is no evidence that the virus crossed the line of scrimmage, so to speak," said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer, on a conference call with reporters. “All close contacts are not created equal…. Some convey a much higher risk; circumstances really matter.”

The NFL’s advantage, particularly over leagues like the NHL and NBA, is ventilation.

“If you look at the data, one thing that shines through is that context matters,” said Dr. Christina Mack, an epidemiologist and advisor to the NFL. “Football is played in a well-ventilated area, with a lot of airflow, and with brief interactions on the field.”

The question we’re all going to be asking now is, okay, how much different is the NHL’s data than the NFL’s?

2. I read three or four different articles about the NFL/CDC call. What really stood out was the belief that time exposed to an infectious person (15 minutes) or distance from that person (six feet) weren’t necessarily the benchmarks for being a close contact.

“That was a wake-up call,” Sills said. “We had to be more precise in our definition because transmission could occur outside those basic boundaries of time and distance.”

The NFL changed its rules to define close contacts as people who had “unmasked, indoor interactions with an infected person for any length of time.”

Quarantine periods were lengthened, group eating was eliminated and meetings went virtual.

The protocols agreed upon for this season NHL indicate daily testing the first four weeks of the season, then to be discussed. Can’t imagine that being changed. And will we see a second daily test (a rapid test) added?

3. The Rangers have made it clear they will eat salary to facilitate a Tony DeAngelo trade. GM Jeff Gorton provided clarity on why DeAngelo was cut: The organization felt DeAngelo “wasn’t able to move on” from his early-season benching and warned him one more incident would be the end of his tenure. That came Saturday night, after the 5–4 overtime loss to Pittsburgh. DeAngelo delivered a sarcastic, cutting comment to Alexandar Georgiev in the aftermath of that defeat. The goalie clocked DeAngelo before the two were separated, and the decision to put him on waivers was made that night.

New York will try to trade him, but it’s not going to be easy. Any acquiring team knows there will be heat. Gorton indicated the Rangers currently are not pursuing a termination of DeAngelo’s contract, and it appears unlikely they’d be able to do it unless the player agreed, for whatever reason. Since he does not turn 26 until October, he can be bought out for one-third of the $5.3-million salary on his contract for 2021–22.

4. Sam Bennett spent some time with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan during the third period of Calgary’s 4–3 shootout win over Winnipeg on Monday night. Hours before that game, coach Geoff Ward detailed his conversations with the player.

“At the beginning of the season, and what a lot of people don’t know, I basically gave Sam the choice of where he wanted to play. He wanted to start at centre and so we started him at centre, and he came in after a couple of games and said, ‘Hey, I think I may want to take the other option,’ which was playing on the wing. We gave him a choice to play in two different positions at the start of the year. So before anybody jumps all over that as to reasons why he may be unhappy, let’s just quell that right now.”

Expect the Flames to proceed cautiously, for a few reasons. One: Bennett was GM Brad Treliving’s first-ever draft pick, so there’s a lot invested with him. Second: Bennett’s production increases in the playoffs, and he does not shy away from the kind of hockey that wins in the post-season. The Flames know this and value it. Third: There’ve been previous occasions where there’s been frustration between player and organization. So, to the Flames, there’s a question about whether this too shall pass. My sense is there’s greater resolve this time, although time will tell.

While Calgary’s tested his value, they haven’t made the move. Both the Flames and the Canadiens (with Mete) will be determined to show they set the agenda, not anyone else.

5. The Flames were feisty in their two most recent games, wins over Montreal and the Jets. That’s not a coincidence. When Matthew Tkachuk exploded at the end of last Tuesday’s loss to Toronto, it wasn’t about Jake Muzzin flipping the puck at him. If you dish it out, you’ve got to take it. I think he was upset that no one joined him in the scrum.

Calgary held a players-only meeting last Friday, and it sounds like he conveyed that message. It was received, although some comments were made to him that it can’t be a riot every night. Get your feelings in the open, get it sorted out, and play. The results speak for themselves.

6. It will surprise no one to know Pittsburgh was one of the teams that asked about Mete. (It’s believed they also poked around Toronto for Travis Dermott. Basically, if you’re a defenceman, they asked about you.) The Canadiens can’t take back money, so it’s basically dollar in, dollar out. Plus, they do like Mete.

7. Pittsburgh will begin interviews with its “long list” of GM candidates this week. Many names are already out there, but what we’re still waiting for is clarity on Rangers assistant GM Chris Drury. If he’s involved in this process, he’s a serious contender.

A couple newer names to keep an eye on: former Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk and Jason Karmanos, who was part of the Penguins’ front office until being fired during the off-season. (More on him in a second.) Nieuwendyk has preferred low-profile roles in Carolina and Seattle over the past few years, but there are rumblings Pittsburgh would like to talk to him.

8. New Jersey does not want to let Tom Fitzgerald interview. The Devils consider him an important part of their future, and it sounds like they’re going to address his situation. (He’s under contract for another season, but only this one with the GM title.)

9. Not long before Karmanos was fired, Jim Rutherford appeared on Tripp Tracy’s Digging in with Tripp podcast.

“Unfortunately for Jason, he gets the brunt of my frustrations when I get frustrated,” Rutherford said. “Because he’s been with me for so long, he’s figured out a way to take the punch and just go with it…. I think it was really good for him to come to Pittsburgh with me because he got away from people thinking he was only working because it was with the team that his father owned. But he did a lot of good things in Carolina with me. He’s really good with contracts, he’s really good at evaluating players, he’s what I need for a guy that works and an assistant GM. He goes with the ups and downs with me — he’s used to it now.” (Rutherford was chuckling as he said that.)

Unfortunately, the two had a falling out, and Karmanos was gone. There’s a theory his absence contributed to the philosophical split between Rutherford and ownership, because Karmanos wasn’t there to act as the buffer.

Some rest and peace of mind will be excellent for Rutherford, who has been extremely careful and responsible during the pandemic.

10. I do think one factor that added to internal stress in Pittsburgh was Kasperi Kapanen’s visa issues. Since he’s signed, there was an internal feeling the holdup shouldn’t have happened.

It’s possible there isn’t one hire, but multiple hires to bolster a front office that’s got smart people but lost several bodies to other organizations. I heard Alexandra Mandrycky’s name, but doubt Seattle lets that happen.

One possibility: Theresa Feaster, who just won a gold medal at the World Juniors as an assistant coach with Team USA. Toronto interviewed her for an AHL Marlies assistant coach opening last summer. The timing wasn’t right for her, and she opted to stay with her full-time job at Providence College.

11. One year from the Olympics. First of all, will they happen? Second, expect negotiations to intensify in securing NHL participation. All sides were moving towards it last February, but then COVID hit. Just need to make sure everything gets done with the IOC and IIHF.

12. It’s widely expected that St. Louis’s Doug Armstrong deservedly will be Team Canada’s GM, but expect at least one fresh face among his lieutenants. Possibility: Boston’s Don Sweeney.

13. One name to watch on the trade market: Florida’s Brett Connolly. Panthers have started strong despite COVID postponements. Connolly’s been out of the lineup — although he’s expected to get back in shortly. He was a valuable piece on Washington’s 2018 Stanley Cup champion team. I could see a contender going there.

14. In the short term, expect Carolina to hold despite Petr Mrazek’s injury. Goalies are a luxury item right now, the costs are high. The Hurricanes will try to grind through it.

15. Alain Vigneault’s stunning benching of Travis Konecny didn’t surprise one of his former players: Kevin Bieksa. During Hockey Night in Canada last Saturday, he said there was a game during the prime of his career where Vigneault told him during a morning skate that only an injury to Alex Edler prevented Bieksa from being a healthy scratch that night. (Not surprisingly, Bieksa threw a massive tantrum, smashing sticks and slamming doors.)

For several hours, fans flooded my DMs with insane trade scenarios, but save your energy — Konecny’s not going anywhere.

At some point, Philadelphia will be forced to look at third-pairing defensive solutions if internal options don’t improve. During a Tuesday morning interview on NHL Radio, GM Chuck Fletcher joked they will happily bring back Matt Niskanen if the defenceman changes his mind on retirement.

“But he’s having too much fun ice-fishing,” Fletcher said.

16. Sunday’s Ottawa/Edmonton encounter was even crazier the more you really look at it. Draisaitl with six assists in less than 40 minutes of game time; McDavid with five points in 30 minutes. While all that was going on, the Senators outshot the Oilers 31-19 at five-on-five. This wasn’t score effects, either. (“Score effects” refers to a trailing team taking control of play because there’s no other option.) Everyone counts scoring attempts differently, but at five-on-five they were lopsided in favour of Ottawa. Totally bananas game.

17. What the Senators need most are saves. No team’s had a goals-against average higher than four since the 1995–96 San Jose Sharks (4.35, with Ottawa starting the year at 4.89).

18. Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev have played 110:51 together at five-on-five. No goals against. That’s best in class so far. Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren (Rangers) are at 94:55. Carson Soucy and newly acquired Ian Cole were above 60 minutes in Minnesota, but the Avalanche ruined that.

19. Vancouver’s gone from one of the NHL’s worst schedules to one of its more rested ones. After Tuesday night’s game in Montreal, the Canucks don’t have another back-to-back until March 1 and 2 in Winnipeg. Does Travis Green give Thatcher Demko a big run?

20. Congratulations to the Foote family, which celebrated Cal’s first NHL goal. The Tampa Bay defenceman scored during the Lightning’s 4-3 win over Nashville last Saturday:

Father Adam, who played 1,154 NHL games, laughed that his first (on Jan. 14, 1992) was banked in off a Russian (Alexander Godynyuk) while Cal’s first was on a perfect feed from a Russian (Mikhail Sergachev).

21. Credit to Darin Stephens (@SharksStats on Twitter) for this one: Brent Burns’s 30:51 of ice time Jan. 20 against St. Louis was the most by a 35-year-old since Andrei Markov’s 31:57 on Valentine’s Day 2015 versus Toronto.

22. A few teams are looking at Arvid Soderblom, a goalie for Skelleftea in Sweden. I’d guess Chicago would be one.

23. Bridgeport and Providence are scheduled to start the AHL season Friday afternoon. The last few months haven’t been easy, with plenty of emotional and financial challenges for the players, teams and league.

“It’s been stressful for sure, a wild ride of uncertainty,” said Cleveland defenceman Dillon Simpson, also a member of the Professional Hockey Players’ Association’s executive board. “I’m just glad now a vast majority of guys are excited to play.”

Inside AHL Hockey’s Tony Androckitis reported on the critical points of a new agreement reached last week: all players on one-way AHL contracts get a minimum 40 per cent of their salary no matter how many games are played; all players are paid at the rate of 48 per cent of their salaries; and no player shall receive a salary below $30,000. It was especially difficult during the gap between the start of the NHL and the start of the AHL, where many players weren’t collecting salary, but needed to commit to living arrangements. Some teams went the extra mile to help out, but other situations weren’t pretty.

“The toughest part was guys trying to settle down and find places, not knowing how much they’d get paid,” Simpson said. “There’s five of us, and 600 to 800 players — we know every decision is not going to make everyone happy. We tried to make the best of a bad situation. We don’t have the leverage of the major sports leagues, but we fought as hard as we could for a fair deal, so guys can make ends meet and play hockey in a safe manner.”

The negotiation team fought hard for players on the low end of the pay scale, to get them as much of their salaries as possible, and Simpson is proud of that.

24. For now, as Simpson said, the players can focus on hockey. But there are questions to be answered. First, what is going to happen in Canada? Three teams are ready to go: Laval (Montreal), Manitoba (Winnipeg) and Calgary. That leaves Belleville (Ottawa) and Toronto. There is still no clearance from the province of Ontario, and the AHL has said only that no Canadian clubs will play this weekend. Second, is there any chance of playoffs? Simpson said there’s the possibility of divisional playoffs — two rounds, both a best-of-three.

“It will be revisited in April. (NHL) teams want more games and important games for their prospects, but it is a risk-reward thing. The day this season ends is when the conversations about next year begin.”

25. He did have a great line about Zac Dalpe, named the Monsters’ captain. Asked if that made him the worst captain in franchise history, Simpson replied, “On the record, yes. Off the record, no.”

26. The Belleville/Toronto situation is a bad omen for the OHL. Hope those kids get to play, even if it’s not many games.

27. Sunday night, Mike McNamee of the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits walked into the dressing for a game against the Jacksonville Icemen. Before puck drop, the 28-year-old stood up and announced this would be his final game.

“It’s been a long decision,” the Perth, Ont., native said Monday. “I just started realizing that … not that I don’t love the game — I’d take issue with that — it’s just not giving me the same feeling as it once did. But I wanted it to end at home, and I liked that it was our third game in three days. It was a very emotional day. Taping my stick one last time, tying my skates for the last time, crazy feelings.”

McNamee played last season for the Cardiff Devils in the United Kingdom’s Elite League, a team he felt would have won a championship if not for the pandemic. The coach was Andrew Lord, who left Cardiff for Greenville last June and convinced McNamee to join him. With the Swamp Rabbits up 1–0, and Jacksonville’s net empty, McNamee scored the empty-net clincher in the 2-0 win. The emotion in the celebration was obvious.

You’ve got good karma when your career ends that way.

“That’s what my teammates said,” McNamee laughed. “I had tears in my eyes as I skated to the bench. They gave me the puck and told me to make a speech. I spent about 30 seconds sobbing into my hands, not sure of what to say. Great people there.”

28. Like many of us during COVID, McNamee eyed life changes and new challenges. His uncles were guitar players, and he got one as a Christmas gift “when I was 13 or 14. I said I would never play it, but as an over-ager in the QMJHL, I had too much free time.”

McNamee developed a love for the instrument. In 2017-18, while playing in Germany, he saw that Kingston’s The Glorious Sons were on tour in Cologne. A big fan, he drove to the concert, joking, “I was one of 14 people at the show.” But it allowed him to strike up a friendship with Jay Emmons, the band’s lead guitar player.

“Jay gave me his number, but I didn’t want to be like that obnoxious ex who keeps calling. Just once in awhile, to prove that I wasn’t another fool with a guitar.”

Instead, McNamee worked at this craft, and one result is “Feel It All”:

Emmons was so impressed, he decided to manage McNamee’s career. His stage name is Boston Levi; there’s a great story behind that choice.

“My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Boston. Her father, my great-grandfather, was Levi Boston. My mom (Beth) wanted to switch that around and name me Boston Levi. My dad (Terry) said no,” he laughs. “I’m a little upset to be honest. It’s unique. Jay said if there’s anything I’d want my name to be, do it. Don’t hesitate. I’m very lucky to be around The Glorious Sons."

29. Ten years ago, McNamee was finishing an 81-point season for the Smiths Falls Bears of the Central Canada Hockey League.

“I had no idea what I was getting into. I wanted to go to school, but I was young and stubborn and didn’t like the offers.”

Things turned when he stood out at a Junior A showcase weekend. A scout for QMJHL Quebec gave him a business card and said they’d be in touch.

“They offered for me to go there immediately, but I turned them down. Then Patrick Roy asked me to come for my 19-year-old year.”

The experience was life-changing.

“Unlike anything I’d ever seen. The fans, the passion, to learn from (Roy), his passion.”

McNamee played one season with the Remparts, then went to Sherbrooke. From there it was four seasons at Carleton University, where he became captain. One night, then-head coach Marty Johnson (now at AHL Manitoba) pulled McNamee into his office after warm-up.

“He told me Tampa Bay’s head scout was there to watch me. I was like, ‘What?!?’ He told me that if he was playing he’d want to know.”

He joined AHL Syracuse for 12 games at the end of the 2016-17 season, and had one assist.

“It was overwhelming, and I realized I was a lot further away (from the NHL) than I thought. But I was grateful for the opportunity.”

McNamee enjoyed Germany, Denmark and the U.K. before coming back home. He loved his hockey career, but it’s time to try a new one. He’s talented. Good luck and go get ’em.

30. Yahoo senior basketball writer Vincent Goodwill reported that the Brooklyn Nets’ first game with James Harden had enormous ratings: the most-viewed game in the U.S. this season, fourth-most-viewed globally. What would an NHL super-team do?

31. If you’re looking for something different, check out a podcast called The Apology Line. Not gonna lie, it’s creepy (it gets an “explicit” warning from Apple podcasts) and not for everyone. But it’s … really something.

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