A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. I’m just here for the Patrick Maroon threepeat.
1. When Duncan Keith’s name popped on the rumour mill, the criticism was fast and furious.
In a flat-cap world, who would want to spend a sizable chunk of its space on a 37-year-old coming off a minus-13 season? Diving into Keith’s declining possession metrics in the four seasons since his most recent Norris vote doesn’t do the player any favours.
But — and hear me out — perhaps the three-time champ could find his footing in a more sheltered role.
On the defensively weak Chicago Blackhawks, Keith has continued to log an excess of 23 minutes per night, often against the opposition’s most talented forwards.
He’s not that dude anymore.
So, maybe in a third-pairing role, Keith can still contribute on ice, and an acquiring team could benefit from his mentorship and experience attributes. (What we don’t know: Is Keith willing to accept a reduced workload, the way Zdeno Chara did in Washington?)
Making a past-his-prime Keith more attractive to his potential western landing spots will be his salary.
Keith’s cap hit ($5.5 million) made him a steal during the Blackhawks’ title runs, but the majority of his money is already paid out.
Keith’s actual salary will be $2.1 million in 2021-22 and $1.5 million in 2022-23. Owners climbing out of a pandemic will happily cut those cheques.
Upstart Seattle could surely benefit from his leadership, work ethic and pedigree.
The more compelling target, however, is Edmonton.
Connor McDavid has openly expressed a desire for stronger veteran presence in the past. And with Darnell Nurse establishing himself as one of the best at his position and Oscar Klefbom hopeful to return healthy, adding Keith makes for a formidable left side.
Keith and GM Ken Holland have some ties through Hockey Canada.
The trick here would be to convince Chicago to eat some of Keith’s cap hit and/or the final year of Mikko Koskinen’s $4.5 million deal, allowing Edmonton to re-sign Adam Larsson and take a run at some free-agent wingers. (*Cough, Zach Hyman, cough.*)
2. On its own, Thursday’s Viktor Arvidsson trade might not be the splashiest of moves, but it certainly signals a pivot point for both franchises involved.
Since Rob Blake assumed the GM role in Los Angeles, he’s been a seller, dispatching NHL talent for picks and prospects. Acquiring the 28-year-old Arvidsson — for a second-round pick in 2021 and a third-round pick in 2022 — means getting a should-be impact forward for the next three seasons. It also means responding to Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar’s wishes for immediate help.
Conversely, Nashville GM David Poile was loathe to sell at the trade deadline, despite his roster’s gradual slide from contender status.
Is the Arvidsson deal Step 1 in youth overhaul? Or is it simply a way for Poile to avoid a repeat of the expansion trap laid by Vegas’s George McPhee in 2017?
Dealing Arvidsson to L.A. means one fewer player to protect and prevents Seattle’s Ron Francis from grabbing an asset as the middleman.
3. Filip Forsberg — himself a midseason Nashville trade candidate — wasn’t shy about broadcasting his disapproval of the deal.
Following the trade, Forsberg fired off a simple Instagram story with a big fat thumbs-down emoji.
And when Arvidsson posted his own goodbye message to Preds fans on IG, Forsberg commented: “Not liking this post. Love you brother.”
4. Main takeaways from the NHL Awards:
• Connor McDavid’s unanimous Hart Trophy victory (all 100 first-place votes) is well deserved. Pretty cool that he and Wayne Gretzky (1981-82) are the only ones to accomplish the feat.
• Marc-Andre Fleury winning the Vezina over Andrei Vasilevskiy looks more and more like a miss with each passing victory. The guy is about to have 32* playoff wins over two years. No goaltender has ever done that. (*Technically, 34 wins, but we won’t count the 2020 round-robin.)
• The Rangers’ Adam Fox made history by becoming the first-ever Norris winner from a non-playoff team. The sophomore also became the first defenceman since Bobby Orr to win the trophy in his first three years in the league.
Every voting season I remember the conversation I had with three-time Norris champ Denis Potvin three years ago about major award winners from non-playoff teams:
“Other than the Calder Trophy, as a trophy winner, if your team doesn’t make the playoffs… c’mon. There’s 16 teams that make it, and most of these awards came out when there were 21 teams. There isn’t a guy who wins an [individual] award and doesn’t cherish the word win. If you don’t win, what are you gonna be? You shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. You shouldn’t be in any one of those categories where everyone else, all they did was win,” Potvin said.
“Have you always believed that?” I asked.
“I’m not the innovator of that. The first guy who told me that was Al Arbour. He knew when I came in as a rookie [in 1973-74], we had the worst team in the history of the game. He told me, ‘If you want to win some of these awards’ – because people were talking about it — ‘our team better make the playoffs.’ Right then I heard him, believed him, and I still do.”
5. Quote of the Week.
“You’re going to cross-check his face right into the ice, but you’re still not going to stop him. He’s going to get up and keep going and smile.” —Luke Richardson on Brendan Gallagher
6. Wayne Simmonds was enjoying a veteran heater when a harmless-looking Alex Edler clearing attempt busted his wrist on Feb. 6.
The Maple Leafs winger had just popped off for five goals in a six-game span only to get sidelined for six weeks of recovery and rehab. And when he did return to the lineup, neither the confidence nor the joint was quite the same.
He’d score just twice in the 33 games he played post-injury. Simmonds’s tips and tucks at the net-front suffered.
“If you’ve ever broken your wrist, I think you probably know how hard it is to come back and still have the same hands and do the same stuff in tight,” Simmonds said.
“My game in tight, you need quick hands, and if you’re not fully healthy with your wrists and your hands, it’s a little bit tougher. I tried to adjust my game obviously to the [checking] role that I was given.”
By re-signing Simmonds for two more years, the Leafs are betting a summer of rest and strength work can get his wrist working like old times.
7. I appreciate Tom Brady being honest about not being honest.
During his recent appearance on HBO’s new season of The Shop (worth a watch, especially for Jay-Z’s stories in Episode 1), the winningest quarterback touched on his relationship with the press.
“What I say versus what I think are two totally different things,” Brady said. “I would say 90 per cent of what I say is probably not what I’m thinking.… I really admire people that actually can do that, and say what they think, because they invite a lot of other things into their life.
“And I think there’s part of me that doesn’t like conflict. So, in the end, I just always try to play it super flat.”
The topic of athletes’ obligation to speak publicly arose from Naomi Osaka’s decision to take a break from media and now tennis, for the sake of her mental health.
Brady empathized, saying he feels like giving the microphones the Heisman sometimes, too.
“Like Marshawn Lynch. That was the most beautiful thing, saying, ‘I’m just here so I won’t get fined,’” Brady said. “It’s a very hard thing to do. I wish I could just go, ‘I’m just here so I won’t get fined.’ I’ve said that 50 times, but I’ve never done it. One day I’ll do it before I retire.”
Ultimately, Brady chooses not to disrupt because, unlike a tennis player, he’s not just representing himself but a franchise, a league, a multi-billion-dollar machine.
“I think you’re in an enterprise, and I’m one employee of that enterprise,” Brady explained. “I’m not an entrepreneur where I can make my individual choices.”
8. Jon Cooper’s dressing-room speeches steal the show in the latest episode of the NHL’s Quest for the Stanley Cup docuseries.
Following Game 1’s 5-1 blowout: “Fellas, the moment is huge. And I thought there was one team that knew exactly how to deal with the moment. That’s one. You don’t win it in one.”
Game 2’s second intermission, with Tampa leading 2-1 but absorbing the majority of shots: “In the end, it’s your compete. We are in the Stanley. Cup. Final. Nobody takes a shift off.”
It’s Cooper’s ability to communicate in layman’s terms, Ryan McDonagh says, that makes him unique. He doesn’t bog his message down with too much analysis. Yes, he can break down X’s and O’s, but his strength is keeping things in perspective and finding new directions to push positive messaging.
“I mean, you guys hear enough of him in the media — he’s good quote after good quote,” McDonagh says. “Ninety per cent of the time, though, it’s about our attitude and our mindset. He does a great job of keeping us in sync there and keeping us on track of what we need to bring with our attitude and hopefully setting us up for success.”
9. With André Tourigny landing in Arizona, Dave Hakstol securing the clean slate in Seattle, and Don Granato shaking the interim tag in Buffalo, there could be plenty of familiar names on deck if/when a coach gets fired midseason.
Rick Tocchet, John Tortorella, Claude Julien, Bruce Boudreau, David Quinn, and Mike Babcock are all available.
10. Montreal Canadiens fans can be savage.
It takes a special sense of humour and occasion and commitment, yet a few fans set up a makeshift “Tomas Tatar Autograph Booth” outside Bell Centre in the hours leading up to Game 3.
Two buddies act like security guards, complete with phoney Stanley Cup Final badges, and guide a line to a third guy dressed in black and shrouded by a hat and sunglasses. He’s standing behind a table pretending to be Tatar – out in the plaza with a sharpie while the rest of the Habs players were warming up for the game.
“Would you like an autograph?”
“What’s your name?”
He confirms the spelling, then he peels off a Tatar Upper Deck card off his stack and scribbles my name, not Tatar’s.
This is quite the elaborate effort to make a point.
Montreal is struggling to generate offence in the series, and Tatar has been benched since May 27, when he participated in the Toronto series.
Tatar handily led all Canadiens in scoring in 2019-20, and only Tyler Toffoli has averaged more points per game for Montreal than Tatar (0.77) over the past two seasons combined.
Yet here’s Tatar getting health-bombed through his second Cup Final. (In 2018 with Vegas, the winger appeared in just two final games and eight playoff games total.)
Coach Dominique Ducharme said Saturday that everything will be considered for Game 4’s lineup, but it feels like defencemen Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak have a better shot than Tatar.
11. On Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs broke a record they didn’t want to.
The Leafs now own the longest Stanley Cup drought in NHL history (19,787 days and counting), surpassing the New York Rangers’ drought from 1940 to 1994.
12. No doubt, Montreal will do its best to re-sign shutdown centre Phillip Danault, possibly trying to get creative with the UFA’s term to lower his cap hit (à la Edmonton with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Minnesota with Joel Eriksson Ek).
But how good would Danault look as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ third-line centre?
Sure, it would be the ultimate heel turn.
Still, imagine Danault absorbing the tough defensive assignments, letting Auston Matthews and John Tavares get more O-zone starts.