A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. This is just a makeup column for botching the last one.
Rare to see a player so bluntly honest, but we’re past sugarcoating here.
It’s sad to watch the deterioration of the Sabres, who have been shut out in more games (seven) than they’ve won (six). And who have now traded one of their major off-season acquisitions, Eric Staal, to Montreal — a team originally on Staal’s no-trade list — 17 days in advance of the trade deadline.
That an inexperienced Kevyn Adams must now execute more critical rental deals in the next two weeks (when he’s not forced behind the bench himself) only adds to the drama.
The trick will be maximizing his return on Hall after yielding just a third- and a fifth-round pick for Staal, plus retaining half his salary.
How much is that paltry return for a middle-six centreman the fault of Adams versus selling guys with poor stat lines in a buyer’s market?
The asking price for Hall begins with a first-round pick, according to Pierre LeBrun.
Six players were traded at the 2020 deadline for return packages that included a first-rounder: Brady Skjei, Barclay Goodrow, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ondrej Kase, Blake Coleman, and Jason Zucker.
All but Pageau had term on their deals, ensuring the acquiring team multiple runs. And the Pageau deal only went through because he put pen to paper on an extension with the Islanders immediately after.
In other words, none were a pure rental like Hall.
Even if he retains half of Hall’s exorbitant $8-million cap hit, Adams’ price will have to drop. While a reduced Canadian quarantine could open a couple options, Hall’s full no-move clause could also limit his GM's trade partners.
The funny thing is, the Staal trade — hardly a windfall — may have just helped set the market against Buffalo’s favour.
The Buffalo Sabres have not had a regulation win in March since March 31, 2018
— Sabremetrix (@Sabremetrix) March 26, 2021
2. Retired referee Kerry Fraser recalls a nugget of advice passed down from his own mentor, John McCauley.
“The very most successful referee is a guy that allows the game to be controlled in bedlam,” Fraser relayed during an appearance on Lead Off, following the Tim Peel debacle.
“No referee wants to impose himself in a game. He wants to drop the puck and say, ‘Bring it back to me at the end.’ Let’s play. It’s great for the fans. It’s great for the players.”
McCauley, Fraser, Peel, none of them called the rulebook like a pointdexter.
Do that, as Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe noted this week, and you’d be whistling 50 infractions a night.
“There’s an art to officiating. It’s not just enforce the rules,” Fraser argues. “You have to learn your trade.”
Fraser donned the stripes for some 30 NHL years and found himself in his own share of controversies. Once the league installed its two-ref system, he’d review the two teams with his partner before puck drop and say: “Let’s not take the heartbeat out of the game here.”
Ideally, they’d avoid overreaction early and create a flow to the action. Players changing on the fly and picking themselves up after receiving hard hits. Fewer stoppages means fewer opportunities to scrum and bicker and seek retribution.
Keefe highlighted an important fact: That hockey is the only major team sport where each penalty has an effect on the game clock. An excess of penalties could effect the fan experience and the entertainment value. “That’s at the root of our sport,” Keefe said.
Game management and make-up calls, however, are not the same thing. And if the more talented side deserves to draw seven penalties, that shouldn’t mean the other gets five ticky-tack power-plays just so the ledger looks more balanced.
“The best way I feel about it is keeping the standard as consistent as possible, at least from start to finish. Some nights, a little more gets let go. Sometimes it's a little tighter. But when the standards change in-game so significantly, that's when it can get frustrating as a player,” Leafs captain John Tavares says.
“But I don't think anyone wants to see important games, important points be decided by a faceoff violation in the last two minutes of a great hockey game that's got a lot on the line and may be even a playoff game.”
The NHL had to come down hard on Peel, especially as it drives to be a larger player in the gambling space. But there is some measure of sympathy for a mic’d-up scapegoat who, Fraser says, was urged to delay retirement and call one more season and help mentor younger stripes on the craft.
“I always liked Tim Peel,” Arizona Coyotes defenceman Jason Demers tweeted. “There’s a flow in NHL games that refs have to manage that might be tough to notice. They are human, and make mistakes, and sometimes get caught up in keeping that flow. Might be excessive [shrug emojis].”
If hunting for makeup calls disappears as a result of the hot mic, fantastic.
But those who expect every infraction to trigger a whistle should be careful what they wish for.
3. Here’s a Tim Peel ripple effect.
Referee Eric Furlatt made a point to clasp his hand over his collar mic during this discussion with Wayne Simmonds Friday night. Why take the risk of anyone getting exposed for saying something reprimandable?
Kadri, 30, dives into the differences between the markets and recalls the weird feeling of getting undressed postgame in Denver and no reporters even approaching him. He was used to deep scrums, waves of questions, and front-page treatment as a Leaf.
“The privacy aspect in Denver — nobody’s bugging you,” Kadri marvels.
Kadri goes over his nixed trade to Calgary, confirms some of the other organizations on his no-trade list, and admits to initial bitterness over being traded to the Avs.
“I knew I was gonna get better, and I wanted to provide more for the [Leafs]. They decided to go in a different direction, and I’m OK with that,” said Kadri, now embracing his important role on a U.S. contender.
Kadri also acknowledges the role his back-to-back playoff suspensions against the Bruins played in his ouster. But is confident he’d learned his lesson.
“Bit of a s––––– thing for me to go through. But you can’t think I was gonna do that again for a third time, did ya?” Kadri smiled. “Two’s enough.”
5. Despite their rebuilding year, and a ridiculous string of goalie injuries, the young Senators deserve props for not wilting. The overall results aren’t there, but effort is never questioned.
“As the season has worn on, they've gotten a lot more comfortable with how it is they want to play and need to play,” Sheldon Keefe observes. “We felt that, really, right from the start of the season, they're a difficult team to play against. I think they've had a lot of nights where the game gets away on them early and they've had some difficulty getting saves, but anytime they've gotten those saves and they've stayed in games and hung around, they're either winning games or they're an extremely difficult team to beat.
“Just to focus on the last 20 games, they're really as good as any team in the division in that sense. It's a team that, because of their start, perhaps a lot of people overlook them. But you watch the games and focus on them, they're doing a lot of things. Obviously, haven't lost the regulation in [six] games here now. They're a confident team, and certainly they've played probably their best hockey against us.”
D.J. Smith deserves credit for keeping his players motivated without a playoff spot to grasp.
“He's got lots of energy,” says Keefe, who coached against Smith in the OHL and worked with him in Toronto. “He's got lots of personality to him and communicates well with the players and does a really good job of getting the group to play together as a unit and towards one goal and have one focus there.”
6. “You don’t often get to celebrate with the bench,” Zach Hyman said last Saturday, after breaking protocol.
Typically, you score a big goal, party with the other four teammates on the ice, then glide to the bench for fist bumps, but after wheeling around the Flames net to give himself some space, the momentum of Hyman’s fadeaway shot carried him right into the Leafs bench.
Hyman pointed out that it was only possible in the second period because the home bench is closer to the O-zone.
“Wayne Simmonds was there so it was fun to celebrate with him,” Hyman said.
Left hanging, however, was William Nylander — who was also ready for some palm slapping.
“Next time I'll let them know that I'm ready for a high five,” Nylander smiled. “All good.”
7. Quote of the Week.
David Pastrnak, asked how he stayed in shape stuck in COVID protocol: "I did a couple pushups with one hand."
Pastrnak is the Jack Palance of hockey.
8. Alexander Kerfoot is enjoying a pinch-me moment as he hops the boards with icons Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza.
“It's just watching their habits every day. I mean, you see Jumbo. He doesn't take any days off. Same with Spezz. They're always in the gym, trying to do something every day to get a little bit better on the ice. They're always staying after, working on things,” Kerfoot explains.
“Jumbo has kind of taken both of us and ran us through a couple of drills that I had never really done before. I never had a line just get together and do our own little drills, but Jumbo just wanted us all to be on the same page.”
The extra work is paying off, as the 37-year-old Spezza will take a three-game goal streak into Saturday’s game versus Edmonton.
“Lots of confidence. He’s feeling it. He’s shooting the puck. He’s hanging onto it in the offensive zone. He was really one of the only guys that was winning faceoffs for us here today, which earns him more ice time,” Sheldon Keefe said, following the Leafs’ 3-2 OT win in Ottawa Friday.
Coach Keefe seems to have found a fourth line that works. Timely contributions have been critical with the Leafs’ power play in an 0-for-16 slump and super sniper Auston Matthews enduring a five-game drought.
“Right now our top guys are fighting it around the net a little bit, and it isn’t falling for them. We need to get those goals from other guys. Get one from that line and one from [Ilya] Mikheyev there and that line. That’s obviously very important for us,” Keefe said.
“It wasn’t just that one that went in for them, but they had some good shifts and sequences coming out of O-zone faceoffs earlier in the game too.”
Goals in three straight games for Jason Spezza! pic.twitter.com/Dhtg5COhcI
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 26, 2021
9. After getting their lunch fed to them by the Senators, the Calgary Flames have a .471 points percentage, a minus-14 goal differential, and a 4.9 per cent chance of making the North Division playoffs (per SportsClubStats.com).
GM Brad Treliving is on his fifth head coach. Time to look at the skaters.
Derek Ryan, Josh Leivo, Brett Ritchie, Joakim Nordstrom, Zac Rinaldo, Nikita Nesterov, and backup goalie David Rittich are all pending UFAs. Depth pieces.
If you’re Treliving, do you sell for a small return — or do you hold your cards and hope Darryl Sutter can get the group on a run? Probably the latter.
As we brace ourselves for a seventh round of Johnny Gaudreau trade rumours this summer, the big question is whether the core must be dismantled? It’s been a long time since the Flames looked like a consistent force.
Gaudreau and Sean Monahan simply aren’t generating enough even-strength offence in a division dominated by elite top-end talent. (Just peek at the top-six production of Canada’s top three teams — Toronto, Edmonton and Winnipeg.)
More than half (11) of Gaudreau and Monahan’s 20 combined goals have come on the power-play.
10. The Philadelphia Flyers’ shot at saving their season and scrambling for a post-season berth isn’t much better: 6.2 per cent.
Philly’s issue is plain. Pretty difficult to win with a league-worst .875 save percentage, an indictment on Carter Hart but also the defenders in front of him.
Hart is in a contract year and will be restricted after the season. What once looked like a situation where the team should try to lock up a No. 1 goalie for as long as possible has morphed into a situation where a bridge deal might be the best course for both sides.
Hot take: Should Alain Vigneault try dressing his goalies in Puffy coats?
GM Chuck Fletcher had originally planned to be a buyer but must switch tacks. (Side thought: How sweet must it be for Ron Hextall to see his Penguins on the rise right now?)
Like Treliving, Fletcher doesn’t have a ton of impact pieces to consider selling. We’re looking at depth pieces like Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Erik Gustafsson and Samuel Morin.
11. Ladies and gentlemen, the fake lacrosse goal:
In a USPHL game between the Charlotte Rush and Northern Cyclones, 19-year-old C.J. Zezima executed this brilliant sell job of the Michigan move, pretending to scoop the puck onto his blade behind the net but instead leaving it for teammate Zach Dill.
All the Cyclones bite, giving Dill an easy wraparound. Beautiful.
12. “I got my parade!” Bob Plager, the Original Blue, told a giddy throng of St. Louisans partying in the summer of 2019.
A sad day in the hockey world Wednesday, learning that the 78-year-old Plager had been killed in a car crash. The outpouring of love for Plager has provided some comfort.
"He's the reason why I love St. Louis so much. Everyone keeps saying, 'Why do you keep coming back?' It's for that type of guy right there,” David Perron said.
T.J. Oshie, a Blue for seven seasons, tweeted: “I can still see the little smirk as Bobby would walk up to me to tell a couple jokes. Almost as if he had already said it in his head and was holding back the laugh. I’ll always cherish those little moments with him. Rest In Peace #5.”
Plager was either a player, coach or executive for nearly all of the Blues' existence since 1967 until his death. On skates, he repped the Blues in the final twice but had to wait until ’19 to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Prior to that final series against Boston, Ryan O’Reilly had promised Plager they’d get him his parade. And we’ll never forget Plager’s presence during that final two springs ago. He was always around the rink, always smiling, always available.
Like the host of the greatest party a hockey lifer could be invited to. Rest in peace.