Quick Shifts: Why Maple Leafs should be all over a Chris Tanev trade

Elliotte Friedman gives the latest on the biggest stories around the NHL, including the Maple Leafs ongoing search for defensive help, Jack Campbell potential return to the Oilers and Patrik Alviin and Elias Pettersson meet on Canucks road trip.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Full disclosure: They’re trying to trade me but refuse to retain salary.

1. Calgary’s Nikita Zadorov trade with Vancouver taught us that, no, it’s not too early for the Flames to make deals on their impending UFAs.

Now, the Zadorov situation was unique in that the defenceman very publicly begged out, which no doubt caused some measure of distraction or discontent in a dressing room trying to come together and claw back into the playoff race.

There will be less urgency for GM Craig Conroy to make decisions on Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm.

Still, a late-November trade opens the possibility for further movement.

And with three regular D-men out of the picture in Toronto, the Maple Leafs should zero in on a Tanev homecoming.

Said Leafs GM Brad Treliving, at the top of the week, of trading for defence: “You have people probably playing higher and more minutes you want, and they’re hanging in there, but it’s certainly an area we’d like to look at and see if there’s a way to help ourselves.”

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Tanev ($4.5-million cap hit) will be in more demand and therefore more expensive than Zadorov, but he is precisely the type of heart-and-soul defender the Leafs need. The right shot can help stabilize playmaking lefty Morgan Rielly or eat 19 minutes of tough defensive assignments in a shutdown role next to, say, Jake McCabe. 

Did we mention he blocks shots with his freaking face?

Tanev would instantly improve a mediocre penalty kill and take on pressure-packed D-zone starts.

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When one considers the other names that may be available — Adam Boqvist? Andrew Peeke? Will Borgen? Sean Walker? Ilya Lyubushkin? — none scream “you know what you’re getting” louder than Tanev.

And with T.J. Brodie coming off the books at season’s end, Treliving would be enticed to make Tanev more than a rental.

Wanting the player and getting the player are different animals, of course. 

And Nick Kypreos brought up an interesting point on Friday’s Real Kyper & Bourne show: Despite the great relationship between Conroy and Treliving, Flames ownership might not be excited to do the Leafs GM any favours after his wanting out of Calgary. (Remember those silly draft-floor restrictions?)

Still, when it comes to a team in need and a player who fits, Tanev is the best and most obvious target for Toronto.

2. A reason for William Nylander’s stellar contract campaign: He’s simply shooting more. 

A lot more.

In 2021-22, the winger set a career high with 256 shots. He trumped that in 2022-23 with 293, helping him to 40 goals.

This season, Nylander is firing at a 4.38 shots-per-game clip, putting him on pace to smash a new personal best of 359 shots (and that doesn’t include all those pinged posts).

Has he made a conscious decision to pull the trigger?

“I don’t know if I’m thinking about it any more than what I have in the past, but maybe just find myself in more shooting areas. I have no clue,” Nylander says, shrugging. “Like, I haven’t thought about this aspect of my game.”

An easy explanation is simply time on ice. Nylander is averaging 20:33 a night, two minutes more than last season.

Another is confidence.

A third, Mitch Marner points out, is the fact Nylander is seeing more time on the power-play shooting flank under assistant Guy Boucher’s rejigged formation (a spot previously occupied by Marner).

3. Nylander says he finds acting difficult. The fun doesn’t arrive until he sees the finished product and he’s happy with the result.

“I’ve been taking the subway for a couple of years. That it became so big this time was kind of funny,” Nylander explains of how he spun his work commute into a TV spot for Rogers.

No, now that his mode of game-night transportation is public knowledge, he hasn’t been bothered by his fellow TTCers.

“It hasn’t been bad at all. People are always really nice on the subway,” he says.

Nylander is most excited that his mom and sisters got to take part in the piece. 

“It was pretty fast,” he says. “They did a great job. We did a couple of takes. It was lots of fun.”

As a bonus, Nylander brought his dogs on set: “It was fun that they could be there and watch their dad do a little commercial.”

4. Beyond the obvious — “What really happened?” — Corey Perry’s abrupt dismissal leaves us with more questions than answers:

• Why did it take so long for the Blackhawks and Perry himself to make it clear that no player or player’s family was involved?

• Why was young GM Kyle Davidson, obviously rattled, thrust on stage to take all the bullets himself?

• Will Perry grieve his costly contract termination before the 60-day deadline?

• Will this incident affect the onetime Hart winner and Cup champion’s ability to land another NHL job and/or his Hall of Fame consideration?

• Most important: How has this mess affected franchise player Connor Bedard and how will it affect his relationship with the club moving forward?

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5. To pull up and chat with Matty Beniers at his locker, you would never know he’s off to a bit of a sophomore slump.

The affable Calder Trophy champ scored 24 goals and put up 57 points with a plus-14 last season.

Through 24 games this season, Beniers has just four goals and 12 points. The two-way pivot is a minus-15, and Seattle — a feel-good tale last spring — is scuffling this fall.

“Just keep trying to chug along,” says the 21-year-old. “Every season is different.”

When the puck isn’t falling, Beniers says he hones in on video sessions to examine his game. He believes himself a smart self-critic who understands that production flows and recedes. If he’s earning chances, he’ll give himself credit for a good game even when the points don’t follow.

And when he’s in a funk?

“I talk to my dad. That’s how it’s always been. You always go back to who you’re comfortable with,” Beniers says of his former minor hockey coach.

“He just likes watching. He’s proud of me. If I ask him what he thinks, he’ll tell me.”

Beniers’ Massachusetts-based family tries to visit Seattle once a month to take in games, and they won’t miss the Kraken’s annual tour through Boston, New Jersey, and New York.

The centre’s Kraken family is supportive, too.

“Recently, you’re seeing a player that’s playing with great energy, playing very confidently. Some of the points are starting to come,” encourages coach Dave Hakstol. “Early in the year, he struggled. I don’t think that’s uncommon for a player to go through [rough] stretches. Probably what nobody knows is, Matty went through a stretch last year [when] he wasn’t scoring as well. But when it’s at the start of the season, there’s more of a spotlight on it. 

“Coming off a rookie-of-the-year campaign, there’s more spotlight that comes from the media and the different attention he gets. But, more importantly, he’s getting more attention on the ice from opponents as well,” Hakstol continues.

“You just never see a lot of change in his demeanour — and that’s a pretty important element.”

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Veteran Vince Dunn chuckles when asked to describe Beniers’ personality: Goofy. Happy-go-lucky. World is his oyster.

“He doesn’t really have a lot of problems, it seems,” Dunn says.

Jealous?

“I mean, s—, if I played in the NHL when I was that young, it’d be a little bit of a different story for me,” Dunn replies, smiling. “But he deserves all the success he’s had, and it’s cool to see a kid come from a good family. He’s a really polite kid, takes care of himself really well, handles himself really well in the dressing room. Really mature for his age. So, that’s cool to see someone so young make such a big impact in the dressing room.”

Dunn himself has matured into a leader with the Kraken. He’s one of only four players signed through 2026-27. He leads by cheerleading.

“Just trying to be an ego booster with anyone in the lineup,” the defenceman says. “By no means have I ever played centre or know the style of game [Beniers] plays, so for me, I just try to make him feel good about himself. I think when guys are comfortable and feeling good, the best of their games come out. 

“He’s doing fine. He doesn’t need to be too hard on himself. He doesn’t need to listen to this outside noise.” 

Still, Dunn recognizes the weight placed on a young star in a market competing for attention against the Seahawks and Mariners and Nirvana cover bands.

“He’s definitely felt the pressure since he’s came into the organization, since Day 1. We were a struggling team. And he was kind of looked at as the saviour of our team. And I’m sure he’s been hearing that a lot and knowing that is going to have a prominent role ever since he’s been drafted,” Dunn says. 

“He doesn’t really talk about his struggles and things like that with me personally. But I think when you see a guy maybe going through a little slump or going through hardships, I just try to get ’em going. Make him realize how important they are to the team and how much potential they do have, and hopefully they can bring that out in themselves.”

6. Dunn looks worth every penny of the $7.35 million AAV deal he inked with the Kraken in late July. He leads the club in assists (16) and ranks second in points (19) and ice time (23:39).

He’s entrenching himself as a top-pair D-man after some rather uneven formative years in St. Louis, where his usage varied but he did win a Stanley Cup.

“I’m not surprised, by any means,” the confident 27-year-old says. “I just needed my shot at it. I was in a very deep organization in St. Louis and kind of held back in a lot of moments. They let me live my dream; my dream started in St. Louis. But I think I knew I had more to give.”

The sense is, the 60-point blueliner hasn’t peaked yet.

“Coming to Seattle [in the expansion draft], I was excited to kind of start from the bottom again and work my way to the top. Every day and every year, I’ve understood that I have another level to bring. They just saw the opportunity. Just how great the organization has been to me, there’s no reason why I can’t keep excelling and keep trying to improve my game.”

Dunn credits assistant coach Jay Leach, specifically, for understanding his personality and squeezing the most out of his game.

“Coaching has been great for me here,” he says. “I’ve just been able to go into every game and just play and not think too much about what I have to do out there. I understand my role, and I just try to execute that the best I can every single night. So, I’m really comfortable with the position I’m in here. I’ve been given a lot of opportunity, and I just tried to grab hold of that.”

7. The only thing better than a goalie goal might be a goalie fight, though the former is much rarer.

What’s so remarkable about Tristan Jarry’s first career NHL goal Thursday — a purposeful piece of beauty — is how similar it looked to the goal he scored in 2018 with the AHL Willes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Check it:

8. John Tavares on Patrick Kane joining the competitive Atlantic Division race:

“You’re talking about a world-class Hall of Fame player. Incredible career. A very unique player. And knowing Pat a little bit, he just really loves to play. Whether it was my playing against him in minor hockey, through junior hockey, and now professionally, he just loves to play. He hasn’t been at full health the last couple of years. And now that he’s had his [hip-resurfacing] procedure and worked really hard to get feeling good again, I can only imagine that he’s gonna be very determined and motivated just to go out there and play and feel like himself and excited about this chapter in his career.”

9. Difficult to place all the blame in Minnesota on fired coach Dean Evason, what with the club’s cap issues due to the Ryan Suter and Zach Parise buyouts and a dearth of high-end talent in its prime.

“We hugged,” Evason told KSTP Sports of the day GM Bill Guerin fired him. “It was emotional. We both shed a tear.”

Rare that a coach would conduct both a lengthy television interview (and a candid sit-down with Wild insider Michael Russo) so swiftly after getting ousted.

Evason isn’t embarrassed, isn’t going into hiding. Nor is he craving a sabbatical.

True, he never won a playoff round, but he got a middling Wild squad into the dance four years running and amassed a credible 147-77-27 record (.639 points percentage).

He’ll be back soon enough. Any GM pondering firing his coach this season should place a call.

10. Inside the Kraken room Thursday, I noticed that every player had his name, number and the club’s logo etched into his skate blades.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare says that’s standard practice. His blades had the same treatment in Tampa.

“Little perks for the kids to dream of,” he says, smiling.

11. Quote of the Week.

“That’s mild, we only got to 160-something minutes there, it’s gotta get into the 250s before it gets too squirrelly.” — Florida coach Paul Maurice, on Monday’s 167-penalty-minute affair between the Senators and Panthers.

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12. Have a great weekend, everybody. 

Here’s Finland’s Joonas Lindfors pulling off the ridiculous:

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