A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. If you think taking a “C” off my chest will prevent me from filing mediocre hockey content, you are sorely mistaken.
1. How Connor McDavid spent the opening of free agency was on the ice in Toronto, putting in work.
As Kyle Dubas worked the phones in the offices above the Maple Leafs rink, McDavid and Oilers teammate Darnell Nurse engaged in an intense, semi-private hockey lesson with Adam Oates, skills coach to the stars.
Just a few weeks removed from the playoffs by the eventual Cup champions, McDavid eschewed the mid-July sun in favour of a frigid barn. Work over play.
For 85 minutes, McDavid took instruction and passes from Oates, and it was noticeable how many of the drills centred around the net. The shot.
Taking passes on his forehand and backhand, then quickly firing into the mesh.
Slipping into an open space and pulling the trigger.
One-timers and snappers in the slot.
Leon Draisaitl often pokes McDavid to shoot more, claiming 97 could score 60 if he wanted to.
McDavid, who sniped a career-high 44 last season, demurs. He figures he should at least start with 50.
We’re betting this is the year he does it.
During his taping of the 32 Thoughts podcast in Las Vegas this week, McDavid said he devoted the off-season to becoming a more dangerous scorer.
McDavid set a career-high in shots last season with 314, the fifth most overall. (Matthews topped all, with 348.) But his silly assist totals vastly outweigh his goals.
He is considering being a little more selfish in 2022-23. Attack the net. Be more trigger happy. If it’s the right play, of course.
“Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do in this league, so it’s a pretty good thing to focus on,” McDavid told Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek.
“Definitely can be a little more selfish.”
Listening to McDavid speak on the topic, it reminded me of a pass-first Sidney Crosby deciding he wanted to hit 50 and win a Rocket Trophy. Then he did.
If McDavid is putting his mind to something, we’d be foolish to doubt him.
2. I won’t try to outwrite the great Michael Farber, who, upon seeing a bank logo splashed on the Montreal Canadiens sweater, sighed and typed: “The fact this was inevitable doesn't make it feel less like a desecration.”
We’ll get used to the latest invasion of capitalism the way we got accustomed to a wall of advertising smothering those previously whiteboards around the ice.
Hey, more ad revenue increases the pie, which can boost the salary cap. One can understand why it’s happening and still feel a little gross.
Maybe the rush to recoup lost pandemic dollars hastened these corporate patches, but as soon as the NBA made the leap, hockey was following.
“An NHL uniform is a sacred thing, and it’s an honour to wear one. Putting corporate sponsors on the front would tarnish that,” Blake Wheeler said in 2015.
“I’m in no rush to put advertising on our sweaters,” commissioner Gary Bettman said at the time. “I think we’ve got the best jerseys in all of sports. I like the history, the tradition. I like the way they look, and I’ve repeatedly said we wouldn’t be the first [in North America] and you’d probably have to bring me kicking and screaming.”
Or shrugging and sighing.
3. Even with young Nick Suzuki donning the highest letter in Montreal, seven teams have a vacant “C”: Anaheim, Arizona, Buffalo, Calgary, Philadelphia, Seattle, and now Winnipeg.
Getting stripped of your leadership rank is a tough one, and I’m curious how this affects both Wheeler and the Jets.
My gut says this won’t transition as smoothly as Dustin Brown’s passing of the captaincy to Anze Kopitar.
Last season ended with a tense press conference in Winnipeg. This season is starting with them.
4. Zach Hyman is one of seven players who formed a board in search of NHLPA chief Donald Fehr’s successor.
“He's obviously still the head of the PA, and he's going to be for a while. But I think it’s just natural that when you've been in a role for so long, you want to help find the next successor,” Hyman says.
“I want somebody who’s forward-thinking and can help grow the game internationally. I mean, the world is changing so much, and you have to have somebody who’s able to adapt and grow alongside that and work with the players to grow other aspects of the game.”
5. It’s not exactly kosher for hockey reporters to wear anything bearing a team’s logo. Impartiality and all.
So while my assortment of vintage sweaters and caps hasn’t seen much action since landing this gig, I did feel comfortable rocking a Team Canada T-shirt I got during the Sochi Olympics.
I absentmindedly threw that tee on during summer vacation because it was next in the rotation. A stranger stopped me in the street.
“That’s a bold choice. You’re brave to wear that shirt these days,” the man said.
I looked down. I felt embarrassed.
No players on those Olympic gold teams were involved in the alleged sexual assaults, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
The brand is stained, and not enough has been done to cleanse it.
Haven’t worn the shirt since.
"It's sad," Nathan MacKinnon told reporters Thursday. "There's no place for that.
"I don't know all the investigation stuff, but whatever happened wasn't OK — that's the main thing."
6. Always interested in seeing how much the fan experience costs in various markets.
A new study by Time2Play.com breaks down and ranks the prices of tickets, beer, hot dogs and parking at all 32 NHL barns.
It should be no surprise to see the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs atop the list, and the two newest clubs, Vegas and Seattle, have come in hot.
Interesting to see the last two champions in the bottom third of the league. Pretty good bang for your buck at Lightning and Avalanche games.
7. Camp opens in a few days and plenty of compelling unrestricted free agents are still on the board.
Some names: Sonny Milano, Cody Eakin, Calvin De Haan, Tyler Ennis, Anton Stralman, P.K. Subban, Victor Rask, Derick Brassard, Alex Galchenyuk, Kris Russell, Jay Beagle, Zach Aston-Reese, Danny DeKeyser, Jimmy Vesey, James Neal, Brian Boyle, Tyler Bozak….
Several of these players are on PTOs. Others may be waiting for preseason injuries to grab an opportunity.
8. Toronto not only hired new goalies but a new man to guide them.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe decided the Maple Leafs would be served well by “a new voice and a fresh perspective” in the goaltending coach position.
After reliving the long-serving Steve Briere (since hired by Seattle), Keefe dove into a thorough search for a replacement.
He met with about 10 candidates and narrowed it down to Curtis Sanford — who faces the dual challenge of getting Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov into a groove.
“First and foremost, he knows the position extremely well. And I really like his ability to communicate what his expectations are, what he's trying to accomplish with the goaltenders in a very clear and concise way. Simplify things,” Keefe explains of the hire.
Sanford, 42, was instrumental in developing young Canucks goalies Thatcher Demko and Spencer Martin in Abbotsford and had become in demand this off-season. The Owen Sound, Ont., native was in discussion with rival teams before deciding on the Leafs
AHL coaches need to adapt quickly to new players, and Sanford’s fluidity and openness appealed to Keefe.
“One thing that was really unique to him is his playing experience as well. He’s played in the Canadian market. He spent two years in Vancouver as a backup to a Hall of Famer like Roberto Luongo,” Keefe adds.
“And then there's the personality piece. He’s just a really good fit for our coaching staff and our organization.”
9. Presented without comment: EA Sports engraved the 2022-23 Toronto Maple Leafs roster onto its virtual Stanley Cup.
10. Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe didn’t want to confirm or deny that assistant Spencer Carbery was in the mix for some of this summer’s head coaching vacancies (including Boston’s) after he ran the league’s most effective power play.
But Keefe is excited that, for the first time, he’ll be working with the same trio of bench assistants as the previous season: Carbery, Dean Chynoweth and Manny Malhotra.
“I'm not going to comment specifically on what may or may not have occurred with any of our guys, but we like to think we've got a really good staff and good people. And as a result, there's always the possibility that other teams are going to come calling for them,” Keefe said.
“We're all about providing opportunities for people, yet at the same time there has been continuous change from the time I've taken over. I've had to replace one or more people every offseason.
“We really came together well as a staff. It’s the best I felt about our staff and how we came together. And adding the additional assistant coach, I really liked how that worked out for us.”
11. How’s this for thinking outside the bun?
Sergei Fedorov — the reigning KHL Coach of the Year — pulled his goaltender as soon as his club, CSKA Moscow, won the opening faceoff of a 3-on-3 overtime against Neftekhimik, thus giving his group a 4-on-3 “advantage.”
The bold gambit paid off, with CSKA dominating possession in the enemy zone like a power-play and eventually striking the OT winner.
Would love to see an NHL coach attempt this strategy.
12. When Nazem Kadri signed with the Calgary Flames, he wrote one last text into the Colorado Avalanche team chat saying he loved his ex-teammates.
But, Nathan MacKinnon smiled while recording 32 Thoughts, Kadri made sure to fire a warning to his fellow champions before logging off.
“I don’t give any deals on the ice.”
Then he left the chat.