Quick Shifts: Crowning mid-season NHL Awards winners

Watch as Ducks' Trevor Zegras adds to his highlight reel and scores an incredible lacrosse goal on Canadiens' Sam Montembeault.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. This blog would be more profitable if I quit trying to force it upon this market and just move it to Quebec City.

1. Ladies and gentlemen, my highly unofficial NHL Midseason Awards ballot...

Hart Trophy: Connor McDavid (Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews)
Evander Kane's Oilers will rally into the playoffs in the weak Pacific, aiding McDavid's quest to become the first repeat MVP in 13 years.

Norris Trophy: Cale Makar (Adam Fox, Victor Hedman)
Eighteen goals in 38 games, a plus-25 rating, and tickling 25 minutes every night. Just a silly season happening in Denver.

Calder Trophy: Moritz Seider (Lucas Raymond, Trevor Zegras)
Seider leads all freshmen in minutes, assists and power-play points. Much higher level of difficulty stepping into the show as a top-four D-man compared to a top-six forward.

Lady Byng Trophy: Timo Meier (Joe Pavelski, Kyle Connor)
Four goals in one night deserves one thing. Five deserves a trophy.

Frank J. Selke Trophy: Jonathan Huberdeau (Elias Lindholm, Marcus Foligno)
I’m on a one-writer crusade to end a 19-year drought and have a winger snatch this honour.

Vezina Trophy: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Igor Shesterkin, Tristan Jarry)
Anyone else would be Number 1 bull$#!%.

Jack Adams Award: Gerard Gallant (Peter DeBoer, Mike Sullivan)
Welcome back, Turk.

GM of the Year: Bill Zito (Joe Sakic, Kelly McCrimmon)
Anyone else wish they’d traded for a buy-low Sam Bennett? An aggressive deadline could launch Zito over the top.

Bonus predictions!

Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy: Auston Matthews (Leon Draisaitl, Alex Ovechkin)
Sorry, Chris Kreider. Matthews scores in a greater variety of ways and benefits from being Option 1 on the NHL's top power-play.

Art Ross Trophy: Connor McDavid (Leon Draisaitl, Jonathan Huberdeau)
The Oilers will awaken.

2. A couple of nerdy strategy nuggets from the Leafs’ 4-3 shootout win over Anaheim:

• Toronto took a couple arrows for allowing Jakob Silfverberg to streak in and score just as their power play wrapped Wednesday.

The Leafs had been granted 88 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage and scored before the first Ducks penalty expired. With the score 3-1, coach Sheldon Keefe called a timeout so he could give his red-hot top unit a rest and put them right back out in hopes to strike again. (How often does the team leading 3-1 burn its TO? Love the killer instinct.)

Problem was, when they didn’t cash in a second time, the stars were gassed.

The Leafs’ second unit is accustomed to making a change before the PP expires to make sure a second defenceman hits the ice, ready for the opponent hopping out of the box.

That didn’t happen, and Toronto got scorched on a play that nearly cost it a standings point.

Keefe ate the mistake.

“I failed to point that out to our guys — to be mindful of that. So, that's on me,” he said. “That group in particular is not used to being out there at the end of the power play when it expires. But our power play, obviously, was tremendous.”

• There’s a method not only to the Leafs’ shootout roster but the order.

Jason Spezza bats leadoff in the skills contest, in part, because he’s tied for 23rd all-time in shootout goals (29) and has a sparkling 37.2 per cent success rate. But also because it gives Keefe’s other go-to shooters — Auston Matthews, William Nylander — a little extra time to catch their breath after heavy use in the 3-on-3 overtime, for which Spezza isn’t really deployed.

Spezza says he fully trusts Keefe's pulse for these things and would be happy to go first or 20th. Just put me in, coach.

"I can't say I'm a huge fan of the shootout in general. It's gotten a little bit stale," admits Spezza, player-slash-superfan.

"But in terms of me as an athlete, I love the pressure of just getting a chance to step up there."

3. Find yourself someone who talks about you the way Jason Demers talks about Owen Power.

Following Team Canada’s first on-ice pre-Olympic camp session in Davos Tuesday, the 699-game NHL veteran caught himself standing watching Power put in some extra work. a little in awe of his teenage teammate’s raw talent.

“He reminds me a lot of [Victor] Hedman. He's very slick. And for his size [6-6, 213 pounds], to see a big man move like that and as effortless as that, it's great to see. And he's got a great attitude from what I’ve picked up,” Demers gushes.

“You put those two things together, and I'm sure he could play in the NHL right now, easily. And Buffalo would’ve won another 10, 15 games.”

Demers, 33, is a smart, guard-the-house right shot. Power, a lefty, is a point-per-game rusher with a playmaker’s vision. They’d make a compelling pair for coach Claude Julien, and it’s a partnership Demers has already considered. Regardless, Demers is keen to share whatever big-league advice he can with the Sabres’ future star.

“He’s a first-overall for a reason,” Demers says. “I'm excited to see what he could do on this stage, and I like his calm demeanour. I think it's only going to help him moving forward.”

4. "Phil Kessel, NHL Ironman."

Absolutely we could be reading that headline in a few years.

Doug Jarvis held the title for more than 30 years. Keith Yandle, who surpassed Jarvis this week with an incredible 965 consecutive games played, might be lucky to hold it for three.

Kessel is nipping at Yandle’s heels, keeping pace just 24 games behind. The Thrill, too, should leap Jarvis this season, though his accomplishment won’t be as celebrated.

If you were to factor in playoffs, which the record books do not, the gap tightens. Kessel has played an additional 81 games during his streak; Yandle has 58.

Trade bait Kessel, 34, is 13 months younger than Yandle, and his production has enjoyed a resurgence since his rough first season in Arizona (2019-20).

Remember, Yandle was nearly healthy scratched last season as a Panther. He’s logging third-pair minutes (15:04) on a bad Flyers team now.

Does Yandle ease off the gas — or, more pressing, do his coaches — now that he has the record?

“The more you play, the more you appreciate these guys who’ve played 1,000 games or 1,200 games. It’s impressive,” Morgan Rielly says.

“Phil’s not too far behind.”

5. Ten years into his career, Chris Kreider is peaking.

The New York Rangers winger has already set a career high in goals (31) with essentially a half a season still to play.

Both individually and team-wise, Krieder is doing something special here.

No Ranger in the modern era has led the NHL in goals; the most recent Blueshirt to do so was Lynn Patrick (1941-42).

Forget the league. Despite being the longest-tenured Ranger, Kreider has only once led the team in goals (with 28 in 2016-17) and have never finished higher than 30th leaguewide in the category (with 20, last season).

“He hasn’t acted like things have been going great,” teammate Jacob Trouba told reporters. “He’s the same Chris. He knows what he’s good at. You search for a while to find your identity, find what you’re good at, and he’s found it.”

That it is driving the net and lurking there:

Compare Kreider’s goal location to that of the rest of the league this season.

An incredible 84 per cent of his strikes has come from the slot inwards, 42 per cent (roughly double the NHL) right in and around the blue paint.

It’s also interesting that the left winger has precisely the same number of goals from his off wing as his strong wing.

For all the hype devoted to hockey’s youth, here we are in late January with a 30-year-old seizing the goal lead — and a 36-year-old on his heels.

(P.S. Auston Matthews, 24, may be six goals behind the leader, but he does have six games in hand.)

6. None of the Calgary Flames’ top three goal-scorers — Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane — is under contract for 2022-23.

7. Mark Fraser was hired last year to head up the Maple Leafs’ department of player development, equity, diversity and inclusion. He has addressed the team about racism in hockey, which continues to persist.

In the wake of the racial incident sparked by Jacob Panetta against former Marlie Jordan Subban, Leafs captain John Tavares made a statement before taking questions after practice this week.

“Obviously, we have a lot of work to do with learning and discussion and understanding and how we can continue to apply that and make a difference. Just continue to make our game better and that much more inclusive,” said Tavares, copping to an upbringing sheltered from racism.

“It's not something I've ever had to deal with and have really, truly understood. So taking the time to understand what it's like to be in someone else's shoes, [having] discussions with other players around the league, obviously with Wayne [Simmonds], chatted with P.K. [Subban] before as well, and just trying to continue to educate myself. And then apply that to my daily life.”

With Panetta using the “tough guy” pose as his plea, it was telling that Tom Wilson, perhaps the most famous user of the tough-guy gesture, took to Twitter:

Tavares taking the onus to speak out resonated with Simmonds, who has been a fierce advocate for equality via the Hockey Diversity Alliance.

“I think our organization does a good job getting ahead of it,” Simmonds said. “Most of the things you hear are kind of reactionary, and we want to be more proactive. And I think, especially in the Maple Leafs organization, we have a lot of different cultural backgrounds that work within MLSE and the Toronto Maple Leafs — and we don’t stand for that. So, obviously, Johnny starting his scrum without you guys even asking questions is an unbelievable sign.

“I personally feel the most comfortable I’ve felt in an NHL locker room. Once I joined the Maple Leafs, I know every single man in here has my back. For me, that’s a comfort level. Now, I think the goal is to build that out to every organization across the NHL. It starts here, but obviously going into grassroots and the minor leagues and stuff like that. I think everyone, any player of colour, should feel that way.”

8. It’s always crummy in Philadelphia.

The Flyers lug a franchise-worst 13-game losing skid into Saturday’s matinee against the Kings.

Ownership has granted GM Chuck Fletcher “a blank cheque” to rebuild of the fly, so that means the GM is selling — and, most importantly, willing to eat 50 per cent of the remaining salary on some of the rentals he ships out.

In theory, that should increase the number of bidders and the sale price for captain Claude Giroux, edgy right-shot D-man Rasmus Ristolainen, backup goalie Martin Jones, and veteran blueliners Yandle and Justin Braun.

Giroux’s $8.75 million cap hit seems like a whopper for contenders to take on.

But prorate that over 20 games (approximate number teams must play after the trade deadline) and chop it in half if Philly retains.

Giroux at a $1.1 million hit for the stretch run and the postseason?

Yeah. I think teams will come calling, and he’ll have a healthy say in his destination.

9. When the Ottawa Senators shut out the Buffalo Sabres to the tune of 5-0 Tuesday, veteran depth winger Austin Watson didn’t contribute a point. He only skated 14 minutes and wasn’t even on the ice for a single Sens goal.

So why did his teammates award him with Player of the Game honours in the dressing room afterward?

Watson is now three years sober.

The player’s life really could’ve slid sideways.

Good on Watson for owning his mistakes and then following up on his second chance. And good on a room to recognize an accomplishment much greater than a shutout or multi-point night.

10. Now, this is the kind of relaxed game-day dress code every team should get behind.

The Sabres showed up Saturday dripped in various sweaters from Buffalo’s youth hockey clubs. A brilliant idea worth stealing.

Check the thread(s) and tell me every NHL club shouldn’t do this one day each season to rep the kids in their city.

Or maybe give the players a choice of wearing one of their old minor hockey sweaters. It would connect local youth to their heroes and provide a nice jumping point to tell some stories of their roots.

Just like Wu-Tang, Quick Shifts is for the children.

11. Memo to the National Football League: Regular-season overtime rules don’t necessarily have to be the identical to playoff overtime rules.

Ask hockey.

Sport fans needed to see Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen keep trading drives Sunday night until one guy’s arm fell off.

Not only would that be the fairest way to decide a critical game, but it’s just smart business.

The NFL had a captive prime-time audience. A longer game means more drama, more commercial breaks, more eyeballs, and more revenue.

These athletes have six days to recover before the conference final.

12. Trevor Zegas ran away laughing with Best Assist of 2021, but he’ll need to dream up something special to top this slice of deception from Sabres D-man Rasmus Dahlin, our early leader for Best Assist of 2022.

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