A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Started this blog smelling of cigarettes, finished smelling like beer.
1. One should admit when one is wrong.
And, boy, have I been wrong about the Montreal Canadiens.
Whether it was entering the regular season or watching Cinderella glide into the ball, my assessment was, yes, this was a hardworking, defensively stout group with an all-timer between the pipes.
But with all due respect to the Tyler Toffolis and Josh Andersons, I didn’t see enough elite game-breakers up front.
Cole Goal Caufield, with his catchy nickname, joyful-with-a-dash-of-smugness grin and goal-medal heater.
From the bench to the final, Montreal’s youngest player rises to meet every occasion.
“He was a little disappointed that he didn’t get to start against the Leafs, but he’s handled that well,” said Caufield’s centreman, Nick Suzuki.
Four times Caufield scored in the semifinal, nearly matching the production of the entire Vegas Golden Knights forward cast (five goals). And Caufield’s strikes were clutch and beauties.
Dude is a game-breaker. The missing ingredient.
“In the prescout, either he goes high or he goes five-hole, and it just looked like he was going five-hole, so I closed my legs,” Vegas’s Robin Lehner said after nullifying a golden Caufield chance in Game 4.
It was the only match in the series the 20-year-old was held off the board.
Caufield shot back: “I think that’s a good thing that he’s thinking about what I’m gonna do… It’s good that he opened his mouth.”
Then backed up his verbal darts with a strike on Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5 and bigger one in Game 6, despite seeing fewer than 13 minutes in each contest.
This time Caufield went high on Lehner:
“Kid’s got a ton of swagger. He knows he’s a scorer,” Suzuki said. “Maybe they (were) trying to get in his head, but he’s going to shoot any time it’s open.
“He’s been doing it his whole life.”
2. Former Chicago Blackhawk Erik Gustafsson nailed it with his Cole Caufield comparison.
“The first time I came here and saw him in practice, I thought it was (Alex) DeBrincat out there,” Gustafsson said. “They’re both great scorers. Every time they touch the puck, something happens.”
OLE OLE OLE OLE OLE OLE
— Jay Baruchel (@BaruchelNDG) June 23, 2021
3. Vegas owner Bill Foley has one setting: win now.
So, where does his perennial contender go from here?
Tight to the cap and loose with the purse strings, the loss to Montreal underscores a need to redistribute the wealth.
Paying another $12 million for a talented but (at times) distracting goaltending tandem through 2021-22 doesn’t seem like a wise allotment of wealth.
Some of that money, plus the cash coming off the books from UFAs Alec Martinez and Mattias Janmark (if unsigned), needs to be invested in dependability at the centre position.
You’ve probably already heard speculation that Vegas could join Pacific Division rivals like the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings in the Jack Eichel bidding. Middle-six stability and experience could be found in a veteran UFA like Ryan Getzlaf or former Knight Paul Stastny at a fraction of the cost.
All due respect to Chandler Stephenson and prospect Cody Glass, but the Knights’ pattern of paying for star wingers and skimping up the middle helped lead to their undoing the past two post-seasons.
Marc-Andre Fleury, 36, played superb in 2021. Perhaps there’s a trade for his contract season, which would save Vegas $7 million in cap space — and only cost an acquiring team $6 million in actual dollars.
Just a thought: the Carolina Hurricanes’ net is open. A tandem of Fleury and RFA Alex Nedeljkovic could be dangerous and cost effective.
4. Quote of the Week.
“That building coming into overtime was smelling like cigarettes, and now it smells like beers.” —Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders Game 6 overtime hero at Nassau Coliseum
A beautifully bonkers way for the old barn to go out.
5. For the third straight year, an interim coach has led his team all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
The success of St. Louis’s Craig Berube (2019) and Dallas’s Rick Bowness (2020) earned them contracts.
I wonder if the success of interim head coach Dominique Ducharme and interim to the interim head coach Luke Richardson doesn’t do the same.
6. For the second consecutive post-season, the Toronto Maple Leafs will go down as the least likeliest to throw a body check.
In 2020, Toronto registered 19 hits per 60 minutes, finishing 24th in the category. The least physical team to reach the final four, Vegas, averaged 39.22.
In 2021, Toronto upped its rate to 28.05 hits per 60 in the Montreal series, but still ranks 16th in hits among the 16 playoff teams. The gentlest member of the final four was the Tampa Bay Lightning at 34.47 hits per 60.
I’m not saying more finished checks guarantees success — scoring goals and preventing them forever reign supreme. I am saying there is another level to reach in terms of truculence.
When titles are on the line, the game is still heavy.
6. Shane O’Brien dropped quite the trade rumour this week during his appearance on The Power Play with Steve Kouleas.
O’Brien said he has heard that the Calgary Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk would like to play for his hometown St. Louis Blues and that a trade for sniper Vladimir Tarasenko could be the key. Listen to the clip:
While changes are expected in both Calgary and St. Louis after underwhelming performances by both squads, this doesn’t seem like a deal Brad Treliving would make.
Yes, the cap hits of Tkachuk ($7 million) and Tarasenko ($7.5 million) align, but Tkachuk is six years younger, still under club control at the end of his contract and doesn’t come with the recent injury history of Tarasenko.
Like A Quiet Place monsters, I can’t see it.
7. We have reached peak parity in winter team sports.
Not only did none of the NHL’s No. 1 divisional seeds reach the final four, but this is also the first post-season since 1994 that neither the NBA’s East or West No. 1 seed reached the conference final.
Since ’94 was also the first year the NHL instituted a bracket system, 2021 is the first year in which zero No. 1 seeds advanced to the final four in hockey or basketball.
Individual superstars are feeling the brunt of parity.
In the NHL, not one top-10 scorer from the regular season survived Round 2, and only two of the top 33 point-getters (Vegas’s Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty) reached the semis.
Montreal has qualified for the final despite losing more games (37) than it has won (32) this year — and the same will hold true if they win the Cup.
In the NBA, the Eastern Conference final features one all-star, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo — tying the fewest combined all-stars in a conference, division or NBA Finals series since 1951 and the fewest since the 1978 NBA Finals between the Seattle SuperSonics and Washington Bullets.
8. Heckuva run for the New York Islanders, who have now won six series in their three post-seasons with Barry Trotz behind the bench and pushed the star-studded Lightning to the brink.
Not since 2019 has Tampa even faced an elimination game, and the Lightning needed 21 shot blocks — and the first short-handed goal allowed by New York all year (!) — to grind out a 1-0 Game 7 victory.
The Isles’ core will be back, and there is no reason they cannot implement their all-hands-on-deck system and be in the mix for contention next season.
RFAs Ilya Sorokin and Anthony Beauvillier are due raises that will likely render Kyle Palmieri just a rental.
The biggest question mark might be UFA Casey Cizikas, a 30-year-old role player who might need to take a pay cut to keep the Identity Line in tact. Much like Matt Martin did last off-season.
Good news: This entire run was accomplished without the services of captain Anders Lee, who led the roster in goals per game (0.44) this season.
10. The fine folks at CapFriendly compiled a list of the 18 players the NHL has exempted from the Seattle Kraken expansion draft due to injury:
11. Heck of a career for 2007 seventh-round jewel Carl Gunnarsson, who lasted 12 seasons and won a Stanley Cup.
Gunnarsson, 34, announced his retirement Wednesday with a lovely goodbye letter.
My favourite Gunnarsson story involves the urinal.
In and out of the lineup during the St. Louis Blues’ magical run in 2019, the stay-at-home defenceman — he of 30 goals in 629 career games — rang a post in the final minutes of the third period in Game 2.
Gunnarsson stood beside Craig Berube in the team’s restroom during the third intermission.
“I just need one more chance,” Gunnarsson told his coach.
“I liked hearing it,” Berube recalled.
Three minutes and 51 seconds into overtime, the Swede let rip a heavy blast from the point that beat Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, giving St. Louis the victory.
Gunnarasson was the unlikeliest of heroes that night. He never scored a playoff goal before or since.
That was No. 1, and he called his shot at “the pisser,” as forward Oskar Sundqvist so eloquently put it.
“I can’t deny that. That’s where it happened,” Gunnarsson said that night. “That makes it even more fun, I guess.”
One of the best teammates ever! You made us believe with that OT goal in Game 2! Will never forget that moment & more together! Our battles in practice like we were 2 young guys trying to make an impression! Loved every minute of it! Enjoy retirement & take care of your family pic.twitter.com/bXb6Bkd9jo
— David Perron (@DP_57) June 23, 2021
12. Wonderful moment in the Vegas-Montreal handshake line as Robin Lehner tapped the Do It for Daron (DIFD) pin on Luke Richardson’s lapel.
Lehner was the starting goalie under Coach Richardson’s Binghamton Senators squad in 2012-13, two years after Richardson lost his 14-year-old daughter to suicide.
“Daron is always in my heart and in our hearts,” Richardson said. “I just thought it was a perfect time to pay a little tribute to her because we definitely miss her.”
Lehner, a mental health advocate himself, showed great class in the face of defeat.