By Kevin McGranStaff Reporter
Tue., Nov. 23, 2021timer7 min. read
updateArticle was updated 1 hr ago
We’re getting close to U.S. Thanksgiving, that time of year when NHL general managers usually decide if their team is a playoff contender or not.
Teams in a playoff spot by this weekend — roughly one-quarter of the way into the season, give or take games-in-hand — typically make the playoffs. It’s around 12 or 13 of them each year. (Trust me, I’ve been doing the math on this for years.)
So this is when the groundwork gets laid for trades.
But this year could be different, given the flat cap and the fact that players who are getting sidelined due to COVID.
This year, 16 teams are already using Long-Term Injury Replacement – including the Maple Leafs — which means they are at or over the cap, according to capfriendly.com. Twelve are projected to have no cap space. Another eight are projected to have less than $300,000 in cap space by the end of the season.
That means there’s very little room to make blockbuster trades, or to add significant salary. It can be done of course, but it usually would mean multiple partners who would retain salary along the way before the main player lands with his playoff-bound team.
The Boston Bruins, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, and Anaheim Ducks are really the only teams that find themselves in playoff contention and have significant cap space to make room.
Detroit, San Jose and L.A. also have some cap space, if their GMs think they are a player or two away from getting back into the playoffs. All three have endured playoff droughts. So they could make things interesting.
A team like Vancouver – in cap hell and out of the playoffs — could help a contender and create some space for itself.
To the weekly 13 Musings. If you have a question, email me at email@example.com and I’ll answer it in the next Mailbag. Last week’s “Reverse Mailbag” was a big success. So thank you. But back to the regular format this week.
1. The two-year anniversary of Sheldon Keefe as coach of the Maple Leafs passed without a great deal of fanfare. But I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you what he said about the job he holds: “It’s a privilege to coach the Leafs. I feel good coming here every day, working every day and knowing how passionate people are and how much people care about what you’re doing. I’ve heard that at various levels, and it’s relative, of course. This is on a whole other planet, but it’s been great. I enjoy it every day. I enjoy the challenge of it. Enjoy working every day to figure out how we can make our team better and how we can compete at the highest level when it matters the most.”
1. Mitch Marner liked the ice surface at the Islanders new home, UBS Arena. “Seemed good to me, to be honest. I had no complaints about it. It probably was one of the better ones I’ve played on this season.”
2. TJ Brodie says Ondřej Kaše has the best moustache on the Maple Leafs. Kaše says it’s Brodie. You decide. It won’t be Auston Matthews soon enough. He’s shaving it for the Movember charity. He raised $134,000.
3. I was interviewing New York Rangers forward Alexis Lafrenière on Monday, from my living room, and I asked a question that started “Alexis, I wonder if …” My “Alexa” tried to answer the question. “According to Wikipedia Rangers Football Club…” was as far as she got before I pulled the plug. Lafrenière, thankfully, laughed.
4. Lafrenière, who has a peanut allergy, was sharing the story of why he’s signed up with Kraft Peanut Butter to help launch protectionforpeanuts.ca — a fund to help offset the out-of-pocket cost of life-saving epinephrine injection pens. “A few years ago, I was coming back from a U-18 tournament and we were at a place with peanuts and I didn’t know that. Luckily I had my medication and everything ended up being good. But if I didn’t have it, I would have been in trouble. So, it actually saved my life.”
5. We’ll joke from time to time about players returning to their former teams, and whether he’ll get a video tribute. Well, the joke is on us. The Seattle Kraken honoured expansion draft pick Vitek Vanecek as a “true Kraken legend” when Vanecek’s Capitals visited Seattle. The goalie spent seven days as a Kraken before being traded back to the Capitals. Well done, Kraken.
6. Jason Spezza, on getting through the pandemic: “You value your time with grandparents and parents and family members. I’m a pretty simple guy. I’m kind of a “hockey rink, home and spent time with my girls,” so I can’t say it affected my life too much. It might have simplified it even more, which was helpful. I think the pandemic put everything in perspective to what you actually need in life and what’s important and what are vanity things. And I think that a lot of people have come out of the pandemic probably in a better headspace that way.”
7. Another tidbit from Leaf president Brendan Shanahan’s appearance at Brian Burke’s Prime Time Hockey Conference last week. Speaking of his time with the “worst job in hockey” — when he was in charge of player discipline — he realized the audience he was really speaking to when he did the job more than a decade ago was today’s NHLers. “ I don’t know that we really affected a ton of players who were playing at that time. But what I realized, probably two years after I was gone, was that the kids really watch the videos. When you explain the decisions with the videos and what the player did wrong in your opinion and why, and what they should have done and could have done, you know who was watching it? Twelve-year-olds and 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds. So that when that next group of players came up and they had an opportunity to hit a guy from the side or cutting through the slot, they weren’t doing that. So it didn’t happen overnight. But I do think the game has evolved. There’ll still be incidents. There always will. It’s hockey. But I do think that there’s a greater level of respect and a greater level of education, especially when it comes to head shots.”
8. Ex-Leafs coach Ron Wilson doesn’t usually speak about past players, but I reached out to him when Dion Phaneuf retired and this is what he had to say: “I want everyone to know I think he was mistreated by everyone and was a great leader in my opinion.”
9. The Marlies called up goalie Keith Petruzzelli from the Newfoundland Growlers when Erik Källgren got concussed. The Growlers were on their way to Reading, P.A., via flights to Toronto and Philadelphia. He shared what the travel is like in the ECHL. “It’s pretty much we fly to either Toronto or Montreal, and then we’ll either fly again or we’ll bus. The other weekend we flew to Montreal and then we played in Montreal, and then we bussed to Adirondack and then back up to Montreal. So they do a really good job taking good care of us. It’s mostly flights. And yeah, it’s not too bad.”
10. Frölunda will hold a 30-minute retirement ceremony for Henrik Lundqvist on Jan. 8, prior to their game against Djurgården. Lundqvist won two national titles with Frölunda 2003 and 2005. The New York Rangers will retire Lundqvist’s number on Jan. 28.
11. Danis Zaripov, the oldest player currently active in KHL, is now the second highest goalscorer in Russian hockey history. On Saturday, he scored the opener for Ak Bars in its shoot-out win at Torpedo, marking his 900th career appearance with his 429th goal. That moves him ahead of Soviet legend Boris Mikhailov (428) with only Sergei Mozyakin’s all-time record ahead of him (479 and counting). The former Swift Current Bronco has won the Gagarin Cup five times, won world championship gold three times and represented Russia (sixth place) in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
12. I missed this over the summer, so maybe you did, too. But 23 of the AHL’s 31 teams will make the playoffs this season. Nine teams will have first-round byes. The rest will play a kind of best-of-three “First Round” play-in.
13. The byes go to the top two teams in the Atlantic Division, the top three teams in each of the North and Central Divisions, and the first-place team in the Pacific Division receive byes. The First Round winners re-seeded in each division. The Division Finals will also be best-of-five series, followed by best-of-seven Conference Finals and a best-of-seven Calder Cup Finals series. The Division Finals will also be best-of-five series, followed by best-of-seven Conference Finals and a best-of-seven Calder Cup Finals series.
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