We used to call this space the Friday Five, but no one can tell what day it is in 2020, so let’s call it Frank’s Five until this hockey sensory overload subsides.
We’re still here giving thought to quips, questions and quotes that pop up around the NHL.
1. “There is something wrong. Changes need to be made.”
Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is not one to mince words. You can bet that quote, from Tuesday morning’s post-mortem, made the hair on the back of every Penguins’ neck stand up. Three years after raising back-to-back Stanley Cups, the shine has worn off in the Steel City. Rutherford questioned his team’s “drive when we’re up against elimination” and said he was “waiting for that desperation.” It never came against the Habs or in a four-game sweep to the Islanders last season, and to Rutherford it’s “a pattern in each series.” There are questions up and down the Penguins’ lineup, but Rutherford appeared to make one thing clear: Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are not trade candidates, even after disappointing playoffs. “I’m trying to move forward with this core,” said Rutherford, a man who doesn’t just shoot from the lip, but has made as many impactful trades as anyone in NHL history. Consider it a warning shot fired.
2. Where will Lafreniere start the season?
It’s a question that wouldn’t be asked of Alexis Lafreniere, a projected 60-point producer as an NHL rookie, during normal times. But these are not normal times. Will he return to Rimouski for a couple months? The QMJHL tentatively plans to start a 68-game schedule on Oct. 1. The NHL has a projected Dec. 1 start date for the 2020-21 season, which may be optimistic depending on whether fans will be allowed in arenas. Would the Rangers be willing to loan Lafreniere to Europe for a few months to play against pros? Many NHL teams have already loaned top prospects to European clubs with clauses to return to North America in time for next season. Would the Rangers be on board with the risk in either Rimouski or Europe? All TBD. “For sure, there’s a couple of possibilities,” Lafreniere said Monday night when asked. “We don’t know yet our decision, but we’ll talk about it with my agents and my family and we’ll try to make the best decision we can.” The only sure bet is that the two-time CHL Player of the Year won’t be in anyone’s lineup until after he is drafted, which is currently scheduled for Oct. 9-10.
3. Playoff penalties up nearly 15 per cent
Just ask Tyler Myers. He’d know. The Vancouver Canucks’ defenceman was whistled for an incredible nine minor penalties in just four games against the Minnesota Wild in the qualifying round, including three each in Games 2 and 3. So far, through 44 games played – including the round robin – minor penalties are up nearly 15 per cent compared to the first 45 games of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s 400 minutes of minors compared to 352, according to TSN’s stat guru Kevin Gibson. That’s not a small sample size. Ironically enough, the two teams in the qualifying round that were perfect on the penalty kill – the Maple Leafs and Penguins – were both eliminated. They went a combined 26-for-26 on the kill.
4. Panthers GM targets
Candidates will soon begin to emerge for the Panthers’ external search to replace GM Dale Tallon after his contract was not renewed. There is no shortage of former managers who would likely like a second crack, from Mike Gillis to Ron Hextall to Ray Shero. There is also plenty of new blood out there, with qualified first-time candidates like Avalanche assistant GMs Craig Billington and Chris MacFarland, Canadiens assistant GM and longtime Panther Scott Mellanby, Blue Jackets assistant GM Bill Zito and Islanders assistant GM Chris Lamoriello. One thought: Watching Colorado’s depth, scouting success, and style, it’s probably only a matter of time before Joe Sakic’s top lieutenants are pillaged.
5. Home cookin’?
The purest experiment yet on the value of home-ice advantage is well underway. The “home” team with last change had a 23-21 record (.522) in the first nine days of the NHL’s restart. On Elimination Friday, the “home” team was 3-3, and the Leafs staved off elimination (somehow) for another few days as the “road” squad. The overall numbers might be skewed by round-robin games, which may have been coached in a less tactical manner. That’s why we need at least another round, with eight best-of-seven series, to gain a clearer picture. It’s a trend we’ll continue to monitor.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli