TSN Hockey Insiders Darren Dreger, Pierre LeBrun and Chris Johnston joined host Gino Reda to discuss Sheldon Keefe’s extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs, some potential optimism in Vancouver for a pair of restricted free agents and the latest on the Jack Eichel stalemate in Buffalo.
Leafs, Keefe agree to extension
The Leafs locked up head coach Sheldon Keefe Thursday as he agreed to a two-year contract extension. What went into the deal and why only two years?
LeBrun: Head coach Sheldon Keefe has signed a two-year extension. He was entering the final year of his contract and I think that’s exactly why the Leafs organization felt it was important to remove that distraction in the crazy Toronto market that he was not a lame duck coach. And as soon as they have a losing streak, this was not a narrative. So they’ve signed him to a two-year extension – and listen, it’s not a five-year extension. I’m sure a lot of people are saying why sign this guy to an extension now after they’ve lost out in the opening round of the playoffs two years straight. On the flip side, this is his first full 82-game season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They believe in him, but it’s a prove-me contract still at two years, not a five-year extension.
Are things moving in Vancouver?
We’re about two weeks away from puck drop and both Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson are without deals. Is there some reason for optimism?
Dreger: Well, it’s certainly starting to feel that way as we get into the later stages of the week here. I know the talks have intensified between the Vancouver Canucks and the agents for Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson, that’s J.P. Barry and Pat Brisson from CAA Sports. Now, I’m told they’re still grinding, they’re not there yet. They’re still apart on a number of the issues, that’s how the status of the negotiations is being qualified, but everyone is trying to move a little bit. So, in that, there’s also reason for optimism. Meanwhile, less detail coming out of Ottawa and Newport Sports on Brady Tkachuk other than there are ongoing discussions, which, in and of itself is also positive.
Options on the table for Smereck?
After being the victim of a racist taunt while playing in a Ukranian league last weekend, what might be next for Jalen Smereck?
Johnston: Well, Jalen Smereck has some options here developing and one of those paths is coming back to North America. He is a native of Detroit, he spent the last couple seasons in the American Hockey League and there have been multiple AHL teams that have reached out to his representative to see if there might be a fit and perhaps a home for him back here. Smereck did an interview with TSN’s Salim Valji on Thursday and he made it very clear. He’ll play next week for HD Donbass in their champions hockey league game. But he doesn’t see a long-term future for himself in Ukraine. So, as he works through his options, it does appear coming back to North America is among them.
What’s the latest with Eichel?
Nothing much has changed in the Jack Eichel situation. Are we any closer to seeing this resolved?
Dreger: Look, the stalemate continues in the Jack Eichel saga. What’s interesting, though, is the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association have been involved and are talking to all parties involved in this process for quite some time. It is complicated because you’re talking about a mammoth guaranteed contract and an ongoing medical dispute. But an interesting twist as well is that teams with trade interest in Jack Eichel are being given the medical information as it’s collected, so the process is moving along.
What about a few other head coaches?
Sheldon Keefe and the Maple Leafs got their work done on a new contract, but what about some other bench bosses in need of a new deal?
LeBrun: Yeah, certainly a handful and some notable names here. Starting with the guy with two shiny Stanley Cup rings. Jon Cooper is entering the last year of his deal but on the heels of his general manager Julien BriseBois getting an extension this week, he too now is in talks with the Lightning to get an extension. That should be a no-brainer. Jared Bednar, also on his last year, I’m told he’s also in negotiations with the Avalanche right now. We’ll see where that goes. Not so for Dave Tippett and that’s okay with the veteran head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. He’s in no hurry, I think he wants to see how the year plays out. He’s really focused on getting his team over the playoff hump. He is secure and if it goes after the season that’s okay with him. Keep and eye on Dean Evason, Jack Adams Award finalist this year. I think general manager Bill Guerin wants to sign him eventually but no rush on that front, I’m told.
NHL player vaccination status
By the time the puck drops on opening night, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he expects the league to be 98 or 99 per cent vaccinated. How is that going?
Johnston: Well it might even tip 99 per cent by opening night because at this point in time, there are just 12 players left that are considered unvaccinated. But that includes players like William Nylander, who was a little late to get his first shot. He actually received his second dose this week. You don’t clear out that list until two weeks after the second dose and so by the time we get to opening night it should be into single digits in terms of the number of NHL players that don’t have the vaccine.