Weekly Rumours Archibald, Goalies, and More

Around the league, there are plenty of big stories and rumours, and we’ll get to those in a second. When it comes to the Edmonton Oilers, the big story, for now, is still centred around Josh Archibald, who is in Edmonton but has not skated with the main group at training camp yet.

The most recent update in regards to Archibald’s status came yesterday when Dave Tippett spoke to the media.

The language around the Archibald situation has kind of changed over the course of the last week. It’s gone from talking about him choosing not to get the vaccine and what the ramifications of that are to talk that he couldn’t get the vaccine right now even if he wanted to. It’s been very interesting.

Going back to last week, Mark Spector of Sportsnet was on 630 CHED and said he doesn’t believe the Edmonton Oilers will work around Josh Archibald and the fact that he is currently unvaccinated. That sounds like they sent him a bit of a message.

It at least seems like the Oilers are really putting pressure on Archibald to change his stance and the fact that the wording has changed a bit when you look at the reporting around this story, I’m starting to think Archibald might change his mind in order to potentially save his NHL career. We should have a resolution here in the next seven to ten days though. If not, I would imagine that Archibald starts the season on the IR.

DALLAS STARS GOALTENDING

Apr 27, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin (35) faces the Carolina Hurricanes attack during the second period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars will likely start the season with Anton Khudobin and Braden Holtby as their two goaltenders. But what will happen once Ben Bishop is 100% healthy and ready to return to the lineup? Mike Heika of NHL.com answered that question yesterday on Twitter.

Oilers GM Ken Holland will likely be keeping a very close eye on the goaltending market this season and if the Starts are looking to move on from one of their veteran options, I’m sure Holland would come calling.

The other interesting wrinkle when it comes to the Stars is that they’ll likely have Jake Oettinger start the season in the minors even though his numbers in 29 NHL games last season were pretty good. The bottom line: a goalie will likely get moved out of Dallas at some point this season.

THE CANUCKS & HAMONIC

May 15, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) carries the puck around Vancouver Canucks defensemen Travis Hamonic (27) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning has a lot on his plate right now. Not only has the club still not agreed to terms with either Quinn Hughes or Elias Pettersson, but there really haven’t been any substantial reports that things are even heading in the right direction.

On top of that, the club is awaiting a decision from veteran defenseman Travis Hamonic, who may opt out of the upcoming season or outright retire from the NHL due to family matters.

Hamonic has a cap hit of $3 million this season so his decision might have a pretty big impact on the negotiations between the Canucks and their two unsigned RFA’s.

Of course, this is a family matter for Hamonic and it sounds like the Canucks are being respectful during the process and aren’t pushing Hamonic at all. It will be interesting to see what Hamonic ultimately decides to do and if we get a resolution to the Hughes/Pettersson drama shortly after the team knows what Hamonic’s plans are.

QUICK NOTES

  • Chris Johnston of TSN (felt weird typing that) said on Insider Trading this week that there it is not a lock that Auston Matthews will be in the lineup for the Maple Leafs on opening night. Johnston said that Matthews is progressing well and wants to play game one but it’s a day-to-day situation.
  • Pierre LeBrun brought up the fact that Marc Bergevin is heading into the final year of his contract and doesn’t have a new extension. Bob Murray in Anaheim, Rob Blake in LA, Don Sweeney in Boston, and Don Waddell in Carolina are all also in the final years of their deals.
  • Still sounds like a short-term deal is the most likely outcome when it comes to the Brady Tkachuk negotiation. I said it last week and I’ll say it again, there is no excuse for the Senators to not get this thing done before the start of the season. 
  • Tarasenko is still in St. Louis and Kuznetsov is still in Washington. I wonder if that changes at some point during the season.

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McDavid, Hyman establish early connection in Oilers blowout win over Kraken

“One of his biggest characteristics is that he shoots the puck a heap and that is what he is doing right now,” he stated. After stopping all 18 shots he faced, Mike Smith made way for Mikko Koskinen in the Edmonton net midway through the second. Okay so it’s pre-season but 97 to 18 though …< #LetsGoOilers pic.twitter.com/lOkBgYewwE—@EdmontonOilers!.?.! The Oilers<added to <their lead with four minutes left in the middle period as Perlini scored his second of the pre-season on a give-and-go with Devin Shore. Perlini continued to open some eyes two minutes into the third, gunning in a long one-timer. Both groups are right back at it on Wednesday, as the Oilers take a trip to Winnipeg and the Kraken head to Calgary to deal with the Flames.

<aAfter stopping all 18 shots he faced, Mike Smith made way for Mikko Koskinen in the Edmonton web midway through the 2nd. Perlini continued to open some eyes two minutes into the third, rifling in a long one-timer. Both teams are right back at it on Wednesday, as the Oilers travel to Winnipeg and the Kraken head to Calgary to face the Flames.

Akim Aliu calls punishment of player who used racist taunt a complete embarrassment

This a direct assault on the perfects and worths of our game, and we will guarantee that all necessary principles offense investigations occur to make sure that this behaviour is sanctioned properly. Akim Aliu(29), seen above with the Calgary Flames in 2013, is among those criticizing the punishment as too lax. This is a complete embarrassment. https://t.co/Fla5Dldcd2—@Dreamer_Aliu78!.?.! Deniskin’s actions have been commonly condemned, with the International Ice Hockey Federation and NHL Players’Association amongst the companies speaking out.

This a direct assault on the perfects and values of our video game, and we will make sure that all necessary ethics offense investigations take place to guarantee that this behaviour is approved properly. Akim Aliu(29), seen above with the Calgary Flames in 2013, is amongst those slamming the penalty as too lenient. https://t.co/Fla5Dldcd2—@Dreamer_Aliu78!.?.! Deniskin’s actions have actually been extensively condemned, with the International Ice Hockey Federation and NHL Players’Association amongst the organizations speaking out.

Junior hockey is back — and hoping for a normal season

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ day-to-day email newsletter. Stay up to speed about what’s occurring in sports by subscribing here.

Quick note before we get going: No newsletter tomorrow as we observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Back Friday.

Junior hockey is finally returning to regular

When the pandemic counter in March 2020, it appeared like a possibly destructive occasion for the NHL. However the league recuperated quite rapidly, all things considered, returning from a 4 1/2- month hiatus to finish a full Stanley Cup playoff tournament by the end of September. The late ending resulted in a shortened 2021 season, but it didn’t truly impact the subsequent playoffs either, apart from pressing them back a few weeks. As for the millions in earnings missed out on along the way, owners appear well on their way to recovering a huge chunk of it by slapping advertisements on helmets, jerseys and apparently any other piece of realty your eyeballs might fall upon. Sure, these new “profits streams” are deteriorating the looks of the sport and we’re most likely about 18 months far from seeing a Škoda parked in the standsat every arena. Hey, at least we weren’t deprived of any playoff video games.

Not so in junior hockey. The pandemic eliminated the 2020 post-season for all 3 major-junior loops under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella, and damn near expense them their 2020-21 seasons too. The Ontario Hockey League, in truth, never ever dropped the puck. The Western Hockey League limped through a 24-game, divisional-matchup-only schedule before cancelling its playoffs again. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League closed its eyes and plowed through an unstable regular season ruined by break outs, quarantines and shutdowns that led to teams playing anywhere from 26 to 43 games. The Q handled to get to the playoffs and even crown a champ (Victoriaville) in early June. However that was it. The Memorial Cup tournament — junior hockey’s crown jewel — was cancelled for the 2nd straight year, leaving the CHL without a general champ because the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won it in May 2019.

Junior hockey is hoping to go back to normalcy starting Thursday night, when the QMJHL drops the puck on what it anticipates to be a complete 68-game season for each group. The WHL will try to do the exact same beginning Friday night, though there will be no interconference play this season. Likewise, teams in the B.C. and U.S. departments will be limited to intradivisonal play for the first month as bus travel is still not allowed across the Canada-U.S. border. It’s a comparable offer in the OHL, which opens its own 68-game season Oct. 7. The three U.S.-based teams will just face each other up until at least the end of October, and everyone else will primarily play within their own conference. Each league finishes up its regular season in the very first week of April and is expecting a complete playoff competition to follow. The Memorial Cup is arranged to begin June 3 in Saint John.

Will everything play out as planned? Who knows. The WHL, OHL and QMJHL gave themselves a better chance by making COVID-19 vaccination obligatory for players, coaches, personnel and other group personnel. Each league is likewise aiming to go back to full-capacity crowds at some point, however that’ll depend on the myriad health departments and governments whose jurisdictions they play in. The OHL has teams in Ontario, Pennsylvania and Michigan. The WHL spans B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Oregon and Washington. The QMJHL doesn’t cross the border, however it remains in four different provinces: Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. A choice to lock down once again in any of these locations could impact the whole league.

We should finally get a great look at incredibly prospect Shane Wright if things go efficiently enough. The potential No. 1 choice in the 2022 NHL draft plays for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, whose last significant game was nearly 19 months ago. Wright was only 15 at the start of the 2019-20 season, however he put up big numbers: 39 objectives in 58 games and, as Sportsnet’s Mike Shulman mentions in this story, more points per video game than Connor McDavid published as an OHL novice at the very same age. Wright also controlled the under-18 world championships last season, scoring nine goals in 5 games to lead Canada to gold. Wright was cut from the Canadian world-junior team in 2015 as a 16-year-old, however he needs to be one of the stars of the upcoming tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta.

Another man to watch is Connor Bedard of the WHL’s Regina Pats. He matched Wright with 14 points at the U-18 worlds and acquired 28 points (including 12 goals) in 15 video games for Regina last season. The 16-year-old isn’t eligible for the NHL draft up until 2023.

Find out more about a few of the increasing stars wanting to make their mark as the CHL returns to typical in this story by CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter. Discover more about the players and teams to watch in the video listed below with CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo and CHL play-by-play guy Victor Findlay. And, if you haven’t heard, six CHL video games will be relayed live on the CBC TELEVISION network this season — beginning with this Saturday’s match in between the Prince Albert Raiders and Bedard’s Regina Pats at 3 p.m. ET/ 1 p.m. CT. The video games can also be streamed totally free on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and the CBC Gem streaming service. See the complete slate here.

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Previewing the CHL season has never ever been more tough All three leagues in the CHL had very various” COVID seasons”, which makes this campaign really difficult to forecast.9:47 Rapidly … Andrew Wiggins’ and Kyrie Irving’s vaccine hesitancy might cost them. The NBA announced today that players who miss out on video games due to the fact that of new mandates in New York City and San Francisco needing professional athletes to be immunized versus COVID-19 to play inside will not be spent for those games. The league’s policy could imply a great deal of lost dollars for Irving and the Canadian Wiggins, who play for Brooklyn and Golden State, respectively, and have actually made it known that they’re opposed to getting the vaccine. Based on his 2021-22 salary of about $35 million United States, Irving earns around $427,000 per video game. Wiggins, who somehow is making almost $32 million this season, gets paid about $385,000 a video game. Read more about his anti-vaccine position in this piece by CBC Sports factor Morgan Campbell.

The Beijing Olympics are also putting pressure on unvaccinated athletes.They’ll be required to invest 21 days in quarantine ahead of the Games as part of organizers’ plan to deliver “effective and safe Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games as scheduled,” the International Olympic Committee said today. Like at this summertime’s Games in Tokyo, no foreign fans will be enabled to attend occasions. However the strategy today is to allow completely vaccinated spectators who live in mainland China. Learn more about the policies revealed today here.

The Blue Jays was up to 4th place in the American League wild-card race.Last night’s 7-2 loss to the Yankeesin the opener of an important series dropped Toronto three games behind New York for the top wild card. The Jays are still one game behind Boston for the 2nd and last area after the slumping Red Sox lost to terrible Baltimore. But Seattle, despite a minus-50 run differential (217 runs worse than Toronto’s!) is now half a game up on the Jays after winning its third straight. Toronto will try to recover this evening at 7 p.m. ET as Jose Berrios takes the mound against Yanks ace Gerrit Cole.

Manny Pacquiao retired.Boxing retirements must always be taken with a grain of salt, however this one may really stick. Pacquiao is 42, suffered a deflating loss last month in his very first bout in 2 years, has a side gig as a senator in the Philippines and is preparing to run for president next year. Pacquiao will go down as one of the very best and most precious fighters in history, with a classic rags-to-riches story that saw him punch his method out of severe poverty to win titles in a record 8 different weight classes. He delighted fans with magnificent knockouts powered by his blazing speed and unorthodox punching angles. Pacquiao’s unforgettable battles include his superstar-making 2008 TKO of Oscar De La Hoya, his 4 showdowns with archrival Juan Manuel Marquez, and his 2015 megabout vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr., which came a few years far too late to live up to the buzz and ended in a loss by decision for Pacquiao but still made both fighters a fortune. Find out more about Pacquiao’s profession here.

You’re up to speed. Talk to you Friday.

The pandemic cleaned out the 2020 post-season for all 3 major-junior loops under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella, and damn near cost them their 2020-21 seasons too. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League closed its eyes and raked through a rough regular season ruined by break outs, quarantines and shutdowns that resulted in groups playing anywhere from 26 to 43 video games. Wright also controlled the under-18 world championships last season, scoring nine objectives in five video games to lead Canada to gold. He matched Wright with 14 points at the U-18 worlds and racked up 28 points (consisting of 12 objectives) in 15 video games for Regina last season. The NBA announced today that players who miss games due to the fact that of brand-new mandates in New York City and San Francisco requiring professional athletes to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to play inside your home will not be paid for those video games.

Leafs Michael Bunting nets power-play hat trick in shutout win over Senators

Harkin pots set in Jets’ victory:

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< img srcset =" https://thumbnails.cbc.ca/maven_legacy/thumbnails/22/167/GettyImages-1235592617_ (1). Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Stone, and Mikael Backlund all scored Wednesday however the winless Flames fell to 0-2-1 in pre-season play.

Bunting scored his third of the night in the final 90 seconds of the video game. Harkin pots pair in Jets' triumph:

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victory over Oilers” >< img srcset= "https://thumbnails.cbc.ca/maven_legacy/thumbnails/902/123/CP135365374_( 1). Jaden Schwartz scored twice on Wednesday, but his help is what stood out as the highlight as it helped setup Mark Giordano's goal in his victorious return to Calgary. Jordan Eberle ratings shootout winner:

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Speedy Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers says he worked on explosiveness over summer

Winnipeg Jets fans might miss the quick winger’s flight course if they blink this season. Ehlers, right, commemorates a goal with colleague Kyle Connor on March 11, 2021, versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ehlers had 5 objectives and 9 points in the qualifying tournament, consisting of scoring the extra marker in the clinching 2-0 triumph over Norway. Ehlers, centre, and Kyle Connor, right, celebrate a March 4 game-winning objective by Pierre-Luc Dubois, left.(Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Ehlers also has a lot to look forward to in his seventh season with the Jets, in particular meshing with second-line centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was traded to Winnipeg from Columbus last season.

Now you see Nikolaj Ehlers, now you don’t.

If they blink this season, Winnipeg Jets fans may miss the quick winger’s flight course. Ehlers dealt with enhancing his launch during the summer season.

“You do sprints, you do all examples like dives, weighted dives, whatever to type of construct on that very first couple of actions to start,” Ehlers stated previously today at training school.

“I believe that’s where I’ve been the slowest. I think I’m fine, I’m fast when I get going, however I’ve always wanted to get faster off the very first 3 actions.”

Slow isn’t a word generally related to Ehlers, whose flash and dash has actually been wowing fans given that he got in the NHL as Winnipeg’s first-round draft pick (ninth total) in 2014.

The 25-year-old forward from Denmark has actually likewise been fast to develop himself as a goal-scorer. He’s gone beyond the 20-goal mark in the previous 5 of 6 seasons, pumping in 21 goals and 46 points in 47 games last season.

While Ehlers said he also dealt with “whatever” to enhance his game, head coach Paul Maurice would not be dissatisfied if the winger duplicates what he considered as a “pretty special” 2020-21 season.

“If he has the very same year he had last year, then he’s going to have a hell of a year,” Maurice stated.

“So he begins there. Excellent if he can include to that. We believe he can. It’s not even so much if you score five more or 5 less, you can still have a better year. I simply want him to start there.”

What impressed Maurice the most about Ehlers last season was his intensity and consistency, which he credits to the “maturation process.”

“He ended up being a motorist,” the coach said. “Some of his back monitoring and some of his defensive plays he made, and the strength he played on the puck, was really motivating.

“If your tiniest person is playing that difficult, it truly gets the bench wired up. That’s what I’m enthusiastic for. If he’s going to score 40, we’ll take it.”

Ehlers, right, commemorates a goal with teammate Kyle Connor on March 11, 2021, versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press )The six-foot, 172-pound Ehlers likewise invested a long time in the summer motivating Denmark

‘s hockey neighborhood. He and the national group qualified for next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, a very first for the nation. Ehlers had 5 goals and 9 points in the certifying competition, consisting of scoring the additional marker in the clinching 2-0 triumph over Norway. His daddy, Heinz, shared the rare achievement with him as head coach of the Danish squad.

Ehlers was happy to raise the profile of the sport in your home.

“Everyone thinking about hockey in Denmark was seeing those video games,” he said. “The team that I practiced with throughout the summertime were extremely excited and some family and some friends.

“It was primarily in the hockey rink, but that’s likewise what we’re trying to alter with the national group. We’re attempting to get hockey a little bit more out there, so it’s extremely amazing.”

Ehlers, centre, and Kyle Connor, right, commemorate a March 4 game-winning goal by Pierre-Luc Dubois, left. Ehlers is wanting to develop chemistry this season with Dubois, the team’s second-line centre. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Ehlers also has a lot to eagerly anticipate in his seventh season with the Jets, in specific meshing with second-line centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was traded to Winnipeg from Columbus last season. Andrew Copp filled the area on the other wing in Monday’s exhibition loss to Ottawa, but the trio didn’t play in Wednesday’s victory over Edmonton.

“We played some games in 2015, undoubtedly, and we’re going to develop and attempt off of that and continue developing that chemistry,” Ehlers stated.

“I think there’s some things we require to clean up, of course. There constantly will be. I like what we’ve been able to do and we’re developing possibilities and we’re playing the ideal way. It’s great.”

McKenna Majority Of Players Feel Vaccination Is Players Choice

By: Mike McKenna

Over a year and a half into a global pandemic, the topic of COVID-19 vaccination couldn’t be more tiresome. And yet here we are, at the start of the 2021-22 NHL season and the topic simply won’t go away.

I talked to a number of players across the league, and the overwhelming majority feel that vaccination is simply the player’s choice. No judgment. No difficult conversations. It hasn’t even been a topic of conversation in most locker rooms. But on Wednesday, Mackenzie Blackwood told media that while the Devils have been nothing but supportive of him, he did admit that it “puts a little bit of strain on my teammates and staff around me, which I don’t enjoy, and I don’t like being the cause of that.”

For the players, that’s the easy thing to do. Teammates are friends. We don’t want to upset anyone, especially when it comes to discussing a medical decision like vaccination. But life isn’t easy. We all play the game to win. And I can say this: if I had a teammate that was unwilling to get vaccinated, I wouldn’t want them on my team. I can respect the health decision. I can be friends with them. But I can’t respect the lack of commitment to winning when every other player on the team has gotten the shots. The reality is that vaccination is now a cost of doing business if you want to be an NHL player.

RELATED: McKenna Discusses Why He Named His Car After Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk and GM Pierre Dorion

During last week’s NHL/NHLPA Player Media Tour, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Daily Faceoff that the NHL is projecting at least 98 percent of its players will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the puck drops on opening night.

That’s a great number, but there are holdouts. In addition to Blackwood, Josh Archibald (Oilers) and Tyler Bertuzzi (Red Wings) have chosen not to be vaccinated. Zac Rinaldo also isn’t vaccinated and the Blue Jackets told him he wasn’t welcome at training camp.

Let’s be clear: a significant percentage of NHL players did not want to be vaccinated and felt cornered by the looming restrictions. Many have already had COVID-19 and believe their natural antibodies are enough to protect them. They question why vaccination is necessary.

But last season was miserable for the players and the desire to live a more normal life was the driving factor for many that chose to become vaccinated this summer. 

What did surprise some was how long it took certain teammates to initiate the vaccination process: at least one team still has players in a separate locker room waiting to be cleared. Players said it wasn’t a big deal, but it left them wondering “what were you thinking?” in regards to the unvaccinated teammates.

They knew the restrictions were coming. The NHL isn’t opening the 2021-22 season with any intention of shifting games due to a COVID-19 outbreak. With research showing that vaccinated individuals are far less likely to contract the virus, the league was bound to make life much more difficult on the unvaccinated.

Choosing to be vaccinated has always been a choice for the players. But there are ramifications for those who have opted against it: teams can suspend players (without pay) that are “unable to participate in club activities.” That’s a big problem considering unvaccinated players face quarantine requirements when crossing the US/Canadian border. Unvaccinated players are also subject to much more extensive testing and restrictions while on the road.

But does the problem solely fall on the shoulders of the player? Is it as simple as the player losing salary without any animosity from their team or teammates? Why did some wait so long? 

One player I spoke with estimated that in the middle of summer, his team still had about a dozen players that hadn’t started the vaccination process. It’s easy to blame procrastination, and that probably occurred to a certain degree, but mostly it could be chalked up to willful ignorance. Some players simply wanted to believe that despite countless warning signs, the league would end up being soft on vaccination.

That didn’t happen.

Imagine this scenario: you’re a reliable goal scorer for your team, and you’ve chosen not to get vaccinated. You miss a handful of games and your team ends up a point or two short of playoffs. Or you’re the starting goaltender, your backup can’t save a beach ball and your team misses out.

I don’t think teammates would shrug it off like they are currently. The question turns into: “why are we giving a roster spot to this guy if he doesn’t want to help us win?” Those are tough conversations to have within a locker room and responsibility falls on the leadership group. You need a unified voice and a strong captain.

A lot of players feel they made a sacrifice to get vaccinated. That they had to do it if they wanted to play an entire season, live a more normal life and most importantly: get paid the full amount of their contract. Going unvaccinated may be a personal choice, but it flies in the face of hockey culture. Team first. Follow the herd. Do what you’re told. Logo on the front, not the name on the back. Get the shot. And as much as I can’t stand the buttoned-up, boring, ho-hum nature of today’s professional hockey players, I do think this is one instance where herd mentality makes sense. In more ways than one.

Of course it’s easy to delve into what-about-isms pertaining to injuries and suspensions. Players miss games during a season for reasons beyond their control. But this isn’t the same. Unvaccinated players are choosing to put their teams shorthanded and it’s going to have consequences. If you’re an unvaccinated UFA looking for a contract, why would an NHL team sign you? If you’re a bubble player trying to make the big club, why give any excuse to send you down to the AHL? If you’re a goaltender on the Olympic radar, why throw away an opportunity to play for your country?

It takes serious guts to stand up for what you believe in and kudos to the players who have done so. It’s their body. But playing professional hockey is a privilege, not a right. And by choosing to go unvaccinated, players are blazing a very difficult path to future employment and acceptance in the hockey world.

Burning Questions If the Leafs play a more physical game, will they go further come playoff time

Heading into the regular season we are regularly going to be running some of the burning questions asked by our TLN contributors. The biggest burning question of course is whether or not this is the year the Leafs finally play a game in the second round of the playoffs. We’ll tackle our takes on that a little later. So far we’ve had Ryan Hobart exploring whether Jack Campbell is for real in net. Today is our second kick at this series with my burning question, if the Leafs play more physically, will they have better playoff results?

I feel like the physicality question is a divisive one in Leafs land and it absolutely doesn’t have to be. There is certainly a corner of Leafs internet that wants physicality above all else, and anecdotally the success the Leafs had with a Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour led team, than the success the Leafs had with a Gary Roberts and Darcy Tucker led team would certainly support the notion that physical players have help provide the Leafs with their best playoff runs in the past 50 years. The problem with that argument has always been that all the players I mentioned are also incredibly skilled players, and skill arguably plays the bigger role. You look at those players and combine them with the Andreychuks, Sundins, Nieuwendyks, etc. and you can see that skill has been the biggest part of the Leafs success.

All of these teams have had bottom six players with toughness and physicality associated with them. Ken Baumgartner, Tie Domi, Kris King, Bill Berg, the list goes on, but they were not what put those teams over the top. Similarly, the Leafs need to move beyond the Kurtis Gabriels and Wayne Simmonds of the roster today and realize that bottom six players playing other bottom six players tough isn’t as impactful as advertised. Players like Michael Bunting and Nick Ritchie have a much greater chance of being impactful when it comes to physical play, but in reality, that’s still not going to move the dial much. Joe Thornton and Zach Hyman could certainly finish checks too, but they didn’t move the bar much when the rest of the top nine didn’t engage physically much. The case needs to be made for the Leafs skill players to engage more. and if you are making that case I guess you need to start thinking about what you are giving up in order to get them to play that way instead of how they currently do. In short, there might not be a good answer about whether physical play is in the best interest of the Leafs.

Again, somewhat anecdotally or through straight up misinterpreting data, however you want to look at it, you can see that the Lightning were the most penalized team in the league last year. They cheated, they played their opposition hard, and they were rewarded with the Stanley Cup. The Leafs on the other hand, were 26th in penalty minutes, and were swiftly bounced from the playoffs. That’s one hell of a narrative, and one that ignores that a team like the Islanders, who do play a physical style of hockey had few penalty minutes and went further in the playoffs than Toronto.

You can continue down the hit narrative, bad data route, and look at how the Islanders were the third highest hit rate team in the NHL and that makes up the physicality, toughness gap. You can also look at the Canadiens being first in the league in hits (reminder this is home ice tracked stat) and the Lightning were 9th in the league. Hitting appears to work, and the Leafs were 27th in the league in hits/60 with 10 fewer hits/60 than the Canadiens. Arguably that can be one hell of a difference maker if it is minimizing a teams skill.

When it came to the playoffs, the Leafs had the lowest hits/60 of any team that participated in the playoffs. That looks bad, but ignores that of the top four teams when it comes to hits/60 in the playoffs, three of the top four didn’t make the second round, and the other team was swept in the second round. The moral of the story here is probably that it wouldn’t hurt the Leafs to hit more, but hitting doesn’t need to become Toronto’s calling card and they are probably better erring on the side of skill more than toughness.

So where does that leave the Leafs today? Well…Zach Bogosian was some good practical toughness that has walked out the door. Zach Hyman was some skilled toughness that departed as well. The additions of Michael Bunting and Nick Ritchie probably make up for those departures, but it still leaves a Leafs team that needs to engage a little bit more, and finish their checks more frequently.

What does a tougher Leafs team look like?

Well, it’s Auston Matthews powering his way down the middle of the ice. It’s Mitch Marner willing to take a hit to make a play. It’s players like Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall, and others realizing that to stay in the NHL every night this is something that needs to be a part of their game, and it’s by committee having Holl, Dermott, Sandin, Rielly, Brodie, etc. finishing off a player instead of stick checking them. Small little differences once or twice a game that make a difference but don’t reinvent the Leafs.

Still, is any of that good enough to win a playoff series? Well, like I said, the teams that were hitting the most didn’t get far with it. On the other hand we know the Leafs play a great skill game, and if they did play a bit more physically without overhauling personnel or reinventing themselves completely, that could be enough to get over the hump.


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