Insider Trading: Flames' struggles spark more questions; Knies watch is on in Toronto
The TSN Hockey Insiders discuss whether the struggling Flames have started to run out of gas in their playoff push, why the Matthew Knies watch is officially on in Toronto, who will head up Team Canada at the World Hockey Championship, and much more.
Duthie: Your Insiders today are Darren Dreger and Chris Johnston; there are races for the playoffs, and then there's whatever's going on for the second wild card [spot] in the West – doesn't seem like anybody wants it. [The Calgary Flames] are right there, and yet, Dregs, how do you explain that performance against the Los Angeles Kings (an 8-2 defeat on Monday), where they looked like they were already out of it?
Dreger: Well if you want a team-friendly explanation it's that they were out of gas, they've been travelling, they had some wear and tear last week and they just weren't ready mentally or physically for the Kings, and that's evident in an 8-2 beatdown. Then you look closer and you look at the ice time: Nazem Kadri's ice time is diminished here in the month of March. He played 12 minutes, 35 seconds in that game against the Kings, clearly he's not in [head coach] Darryl Sutter's good books these days. Sutter, we know, isn't a 'hug it out' type of coach, he's hard on his players, but is that hardness starting to take its toll? So is this a team that even though they're on the cusp of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, are starting to run out of gas, fed up [with Sutter], or both?
Duthie: The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a playoff spot locked up for months it seems and now it's just about who's going to get to play with who when they get to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and how close are they, CJ, to getting that 20-year-old 'X-Factor'?
Johnston: Well it depends on what happens in the games, right? The Matthew Knies watch is officially on here, and look the Maple Leafs' brass is hoping that Knies is tied up here for the next few weeks chasing an NCAA title but there is a scenario whereby he might be eligible to sign his first NHL contract at some point in the coming days. Knies plays for the top-ranked University of Minnesota and they have their first Fargo Regional game on Thursday night against Canisius and they have to win that one, they have to win another one Saturday to get to the Frozen Four and if they lose either of those then he'll be eligible to sign that entry-level deal. The expectation remains that he is going to sign with the Leafs once that NCAA season is done. That's going to burn the first year of the contract right away and I don't think it'll be long after that point before we see him in a Maple Leafs uniform.
Duthie: NCAA playoffs, NHL playoffs coming and it's almost World Championship season; who's going to head up Team Canada, Dregs?
Dreger: Well we know that Shane Doan will be part of the management group for Hockey Canada, whether or not he'll be the general manager I guess we'll find out at some point, likely later this week. But I'm told that Doan will be part of a three-person management group that will lead Canada into the men's World Championship in Latvia and in Finland. Hockey Canada, James, is expected to announce its management staff later this week.
Duthie: Evander Kane is back and contributing big time to the Edmonton Oilers after missing 31 games after that slash on the wrist – and CJ, new equipment coming that could prevent that from happening to anybody again?
Johnston: Yes, this is described as being a 'quantum leap' or revolutionary development in the wrist sleeves that are available. A new product has come on the market that's tested at what's called an 'A-9'. What that means in English is essentially it is three times more cut resistant than the previous best product that exists and the NHL has actually approved this already to be used in games basically immediately. It's an issue now of getting enough of them made but the expectation is that they will be in the hands of players that want them before the playoffs. This comes at a big time: in addition to that Kane injury, the league is looking at mandating the use of these wrist sleeves moving forward, so having this kind of breakthrough is important.
Duthie: Could be a major change hockey equipment-wise, could be a major change rules-wise in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League coming as far as a crackdown on fighting: what of the other junior leagues, Dregs?
Dreger: Yeah, the Canadian Hockey League was caught a bit by surprise, I would say, by the move of the QMJHL recently, acknowledging that they intend on banning fighting in the Q. Now 'banning' fighting is a big word but there will be more significant sanctions against fighting in the QMJHL next season. The Western Hockey League is unlikely to shift off their policing policies specific to fighting. What I'm told from Ontario Hockey League executives is they first want to get their hands on exactly what the QMJHL is proposing to do for next season, but there will be at least an internal conversation in the OHL about maybe more sanctions to fighting.