It’s a post-TradeCentre version of the Friday Five, where we point out quirks, quips and questions that pop up throughout the week in the NHL season.
1. The Leafs show some fight
A surprising trend has developed among the Toronto Maple Leafs over the last three weeks. One of the most skilled lineups in the NHL has piled up the third-most fighting majors in the league since Feb. 4.
Who are these guys?
Toronto ranked last in the league in fights (two) prior to Feb. 4.
But Kasperi Kapanen made it five fights for the Leafs over the past 12 games on Thursday night in Florida.
It would seem two events have contributed to the uptick in fisticuffs: the arrival of Kyle Clifford from Los Angeles on Feb. 6 and Kapanen’s benching on Feb. 1 for oversleeping practice. Clifford and Kapanen have each fought twice during the span; Zach Hyman has the other.
Now, no one would confuse the Leafs as heavyweights. But in the thick of the playoff chase, the Leafs have an element that hasn’t been apparent in years. Mike Babcock’s teams were consistently in the bottom three or five teams in the league in fights.
You can say a lot about the Leafs’ effort and attention to detail many nights, but this group isn’t afraid to stick up for themselves and their teammates.
2. Emergency Backup Coach (EBUC) Award
In honour of David Ayres, we should hand out an Emergency Backup Coach (EBUC) Award, given to the replacement coach who contributes most to his team’s success in this era of unprecedented interim title usage. Perhaps it should be named in honour of Blues bench boss Craig Berube.
There have been eight coaches fired this season, matching the bloodiest year for in-season coach firings in NHL history. Five still have the interim tag, like Berube did last year as he led the St. Louis to the Stanley Cup.
We’ve got five legitimate contenders for the EBUC Award, too:
Dallas Stars: Change Dec. 10
Jim Montgomery 17-11-3 (.596)
Rick Bowness* 20-10-3 (.652) +.156
Toronto Maple Leafs: Change Nov. 20
Mike Babcock 9-10-4 (.478)
Sheldon Keefe 23-13-4 (.625) + .147
Calgary Flames: Change Nov. 26
Bill Peters 11-12-4 (.481)
Geoff Ward* 22-13-3 (.618) + .127
Vegas Golden Knights: Change Jan. 15
Gerard Gallant 24-19-6 (.551)
Peter DeBoer 11-3-2 (.750) +.199
Nashville Predators: Change Jan. 7
Peter Laviolette 19-15-7 (.549)
John Hynes 13-8-1 (.614) + .065
Who gets the nod? It’s hard to argue with what Bowness has done in Dallas, but they were motoring right along before Montgomery was fired for inappropriate conduct. My pick would be Ward. The Flames were in a bad way before Peters resigned in shame. Now they’re in a playoff position in a year they can’t afford to miss.
3. The Sens’ stockpile
After Monday’s trade involving Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the Sens are poised to do what only one other team in NHL history has done: enter the draft with seven picks inside the Top 60.
The Sens have three first-round picks and four second-round picks. That would tie the record set by the Colorado Avalanche back in 1998, when the Avs held an incredible four first-round picks and three second-round picks.
Three of those Avs picks helped contribute to their 2001 Cup run: Alex Tanguay, Martin Skoula and Scott Parker. Another one (Robyn Regehr, traded to Calgary) went on to play 1,000 games.
But this Senators draft should top the Avs’ haul from 22 years ago in terms of ultimate impact, because Colorado’s first pick wasn’t until No. 12. The Sens have the best probability to pick Alexis Lafreniere at No. 1 overall – if you add their own probability (11.5 per cent) plus the probability from the Sharks’ pick (9.5 per cent) that they own from the Erik Karlsson trade.
That gives the Sens a 21 per cent shot at Lafreniere, above the 18.5 per cent of the Detroit Red Wings, who have the potential to be the worst team in the salary cap era.
Pending April’s Draft Lottery, the Sens are currently slotted to pick third, fourth, 23rd, 34th, 51st, 54th and 56th.
That makes the Sens a real playoff bounce back possibility for 2020-21, a competitive club with an already exciting prospect pool that is undeniably on the rise.
4. Learning from BriseBois’ history
Tampa Bay Lightning GM Julien BriseBois certainly raised a fair share of eyebrows around the NHL when he traded away both of this year’s first-round picks in exchange for Blake Coleman (New Jersey) and Barclay Goodrow (San Jose).
Goodrow especially might have been a surprise name to garner that type of return.
But for the Bolts, these were two important players who are expected to contribute not just on this season’s chase for the Cup, but next season when their salary cap crunch ratchets up.
Coleman, the reliable 20-goal guy who is a relentless puck hound, is signed for an extremely affordable $1.8 million. Goodrow, who can add 20 points and intensity, is signed for just $925,000.
Those salaries figures are the most important stats because the Lightning already have $76.2 million committed to just 14 players for next season. The salary cap is expected to rise to the $84-$85 million range. That means BriseBois is going to have to do some cap gymnastics to make it all work.
If BriseBois’ history is any indication, you shouldn’t count on the Lightning showing up to the draft floor without a first-round pick. He was able to get one back last season and alleviate his cap constraints by moving J.T. Miller to Vancouver. It’s probably a safe bet to think he’ll try and recoup one again in Montreal because it’s a virtual certainty that one of his $5 million forwards (Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson or Yanni Gourde) will be on the move.
5. Free Agent Frenzy
Even though the Trade Bait board is now officially on hiatus until June – after seeing 26 players from the Top 50 traded in 2020 alone – it’s never too early to look ahead to this summer’s Free Agent Frenzy class. Here are five pending free agents to monitor:
LD Torey Krug, Boston: Krug, 28, is the prototypical mobile defenceman in today’s NHL. He has collected at least 50 points in each of his past three seasons and is just eight points shy of making it four straight. It’s still hard to envision the Bruins letting one of their linchpins walk out the door. That helmetless hit he threw on St. Louis' Robert Thomas last year was one of the indelible memories of the Stanley Cup Final.
RD Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis: GM Doug Armstrong announced this week that contract talks with his captain’s camp will not resume until the off-season. Pietrangelo, 30, is in the final year of his seven-year, $45.5 million deal. The right-shooting blueliner picked the perfect time to put together a career year for point production. He will undoubtedly be in demand this summer, with teams potentially willing to waive their concerns about term to get a player of his calibre in the fold.
LW Taylor Hall, Arizona: Hall is just a few months away from making it to market, which is why there have been no contract talks to date with the Coyotes. He’s made it this far: Why not see what’s out there? The bigger question is: How much will Hall command? Will he make it to the $11 million AAV? The 2018 Hart Trophy winner has 50 points this season, but the Yotes are just 12-15-4 since he arrived.
RW Mike Hoffman, Florida: It’s very unlikely that the Cats will be bringing back Hoffman, a player they were dangling on the trade market leading up to the deadline. Hoffman’s game has warts, but few have his offensive consistency. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Hoffman has the 17th most goals in the league (166) – more than Mark Scheifele (165), Nathan MacKinnon (164) and Leon Draisaitl (162) in the same number of games. Just about every player ahead of Hoffman on the list is locked up to a long-term deal.
RD Tyson Barrie, Toronto: Barrie is another pending UFA highly unlikely to re-sign with his current club. There is no question that Barrie’s game has its deficiencies, particularly in his own end, but he also hasn’t been a fit for the Leafs’ scheme or style from the moment he arrived. Nonetheless, Barrie is a right-shooting defenceman who consistently piles up 50-plus points a season. He will be close again this year, so he’s going to get paid. It just won’t be in Toronto.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli