Buffalo fans didn't get to see Steven Stamkos on Thursday but the Tampa Bay Lightning march on. Come Monday night, KeyBank Center won't get the chance to host Johnny Hockey either. Just like the Sabres are finding it impossible to survive without Jack Eichel, how will the already-struggling Calgary Flames do for six weeks without Johnny Gaudreau?
We're about to find out. Gaudreau had surgery for a broken finger after he was slashed repeatedly in Tuesday's 1-0 win at Minnesota, a game in which he scored the only goal. And Calgary GM Brad Treliving is scorching hot about the injury, which ultimately came at the hands of Wild veteran Eric Staal.
"When you look at that game, it wasn’t the first one. This wasn’t a unicorn that popped up in the middle of a period," Treliving told Calgary reporters Thursday after providing an update on Gaudreau's successful surgery. "By our count there were 11 chops on Johnny in the game. Two, three, four, I got it, but maybe at nine we dial it in a bit.”
Treliving acknowledged he took his case to Stephen Walkom, the NHL's director of officiating.
"It’s a tough job and in our case you’re voicing your frustration,” Treliving said. "There are tactics with good players, but when you chop a guy in the hand there’s a rule that says you can’t do that. We’re not naïve. Do we whack guys, too? Probably. But the frustration comes when that turns into a player being out for an extended period of time.
"This isn’t moaning and groaning. This is a difficult job and we’re not throwing any arrows at officials and we’re not just trying to look after guys in our own tent. There are rules in the game and we feel this was a situation – I’m not going to say avoided because you can’t – but it could be handled differently.”
It's been a tough season for Gaudreau, with just five goals and six assists -- with a minus-10 rating -- in 17 games. And it comes after he was a standout for Team North America at the World Cup where he got to play with Eichel, his summer workout buddy in Boston. Gaudreau, 23, led the Flames in goals (30) and assists (48) last season, and was tied for sixth in the NHL with 78 points. After the World Cup ended, however, he didn't report to training camp because he had not signed a contract.
The Flames finally got that signature the week of the opener on a six-year, $40.5 million deal. So far, Gaudreau has been unable to live up to it. And now comes the injury.
"It's tough for the refs to call hard slashes or whether it's a love-tap. I can see why it's difficult for them," Gaudreau said Friday. "It's part of the game. I don't know if it's something they need to look at more. I know if guys are starting to miss 4-6 weeks with broken bones, maybe it is something they need to look at a little more. But it's part of hockey."
The Flames played Chicago tough without Gaudreau on Friday night, suffering a 3-2 loss on a Marian Hossa goal in the final three minutes. They play Sunday in Detroit before heading here. They hit the weekend sixth in the Pacific Division already. Without Gaudreau, it seems their playoff hopes are going to be sunk well before Christmas.
On Kane: Trade talk, media talk
Let's make this perfectly clear: The Sabres haven't been actively looking to trade Evander Kane, who has been the subject of growing speculation in Canada about a possible deal to return home to Vancouver. But General Manager Tim Murray is always listening and there's no question the teams have talked multiple times. Canucks GM Jim Benning is known to covet Kane as a big winger with the potential to score some goals, and the Sabres could use help on defense in return.
Kane has played down his value to the point that it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Canucks would part with a blueline commodity as valuable as former RIT standout Chris Tanev. Ben Hutton, 23, or Luca Sbisa, 26, would also fulfill Murray's long-stated objective of getting young players with some NHL experience but TSN's Bob McKenzie tweeted late Friday that the teams are no longer pursuing a deal. The caveat I would add on that is "for now."
Hutton makes just under $900,000 while Sbisa is much more expensive, at a $3.6 million hit through next season. The Sabres are on the hook for a hit of $5.25 million for Kane through next year and would probably have to absorb some money to make a deal work if they wanted to pull the trigger. You wonder if this gets revisited again at the trade deadline or the June draft in Chicago.
One thing the Buffalo media has learned about Kane is that he speaks his mind when asked about the game. He did so again Thursday when he said, "It must be a joke floating around the league: You score two goals against the Buffalo Sabres and you're going to win the hockey game." Kane, goal-less at the time, was asked about how easy the Sabres have become to play against and was including himself in the criticism.
TSN then discussed the quote as a Kane-bashing-his-teammates missive and even tweeted a headline to that effect Friday with a video discussing the "criticism." The Canadian media giant should get two minutes for conduct unbecoming a major outlet. Talk about taking something out of context in the most unprofessional of ways. TSN wasn't in the dressing room. The entire Buffalo media corps was. TSN completely misrepresented what Kane said. And then we wonder why athletes sometimes are nervous about how their words are portrayed in the media.
Olympics part of CBA extension?
Pretty sneaky on the NHL's part to try to tie particpation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea into an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, as first reported last week by Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman. The league has the first right to opt out of the CBA amid talk throughout the game that another lockout is inevitable in 2020. The current CBA expires Sept. 15, 2022 and either side must notify the other of an opt-out during September, 2019.
But an extension, perhaps as long as three years, would ensure the league's participation in the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, which is far more attractive than going to Pyeongchang 15 months from now seems to be. The players hate giving back portions of their salaries in the form of escrow and are all but certain to want that burden lessened in the future, but would not have to worry about a lockout if they agreed to the extension either.
When I was at the World Cup of Hockey in September, players and coaches -- notably Team Canada's Mike Babcock -- lauded the renewal of the fall tournament but made sure to have their opinion heard that it's not the Olympics. The players almost universally want to keep going. Many teams, however, correctly wonder about shutting down a season in February for three weeks and about the strain it puts on those players to travel the long distance, compete at such a high level and then return to the NHL season and Stanley Cup playoffs.
Going to South Korea looked bleak until the International Ice Hockey Federation finally announced last week it would cover the league's travel and insurance costs as it has in every Olympiad since Nagano in 1998. That had been a major sticking point to the league's participation. The league could still decide it's not going, however, hence the power play of sorts with the players. Stay tuned.
They said it
---Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper, showing the incredible chin-up attitude of his team in the wake of Stamkos' injury: "Give our guy motivation to come back faster. If we put ourselves in position to make the playoffs, he's going to be back and that will be better than any trade deadline acquisition anyobdy else is going to get."
---Columbus coach John Tortorella is trying an experiment where his players don't have to report to the rink of gameday for a morning skate. Here's wishing more coaches would do it. That skate was popularized in the 60s and 70s by coaches who wanted to get their players' legs moving -- and probably wanted to get them out of bad and cut down on some late-night carousing. It's really from a bygone era.
Said Tortorella: "We bring them in here one time a day on practice days, but on game days we bring them in twice. It doesn’t make any sense. With our schedule coming up the way it is, we are trying to get our guys out of the building as much as we can. I left it up to the leadership group. I did not want to force it upon them. I said ‘I will do anything you want, I just want to offer you this option.’ They came back to me and said they were all for it.”
---St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock, asked prior to the Sabres' visit Tuesday how goalies can bounce back from tough games like the Blues' 8-4 loss last weekend in Columbus: "You have to play with no memory. It would be best, no offense, if you didn't have a TV and didn't have a subscription to the local newspaper."
---Ryan Miller's diving save a couple of weeks back in Detroit went viral for his shortstop-like dive through the crease after retreating while heading to the bench. Tampa's Ben Bishop made a similar play on the backhand to rob Kyle Okposo here Thursday night. Cracked Cooper: "I don't understand what he was doing. ... I don't know. Maybe he had a little bet with Ryan Miller. Who knows?"
Around the boards
---The new Las Vegas franchise is going to hold its long-awaited public reveal of its nickname and logo Tuesday night on the plaza outside T-Mobile Arena, where it will begin play next season. The event starts at 8:30 p.m Eastern time and will be televised on NHL Network.
Owner Bill Foley has already revealed that the nickname will be either Desert Knights, Silver Knights or Golden Knights. Team colors will include gold, gray and a Nevada red-rock influence.
---The Blackhawks' annual long November road trip for the Ringling Brothers circus and their February trip for Disney on Ice will be a thing of the past after this year as the United Center has decided not to renew the contracts with the shows for extended runs. The Hawks and Bulls both have to leave town for long trips and season ticket-holders have also complained the schedule compresses home games when the shows leave and the teams return.
The Hawks started this year's seven-game trip with Tuesday's 4-0 loss in Winnipeg and then won, 3-2, Friday in Calgary. The trip moved to Vancovuer Saturday followed by games this week at Edmonton, San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles
---With so many empty seats at Sabres games lately, the bet here is the crowd for the next home game might be the smallest we've seen in several years, not counting a couple games played on nights of snowstorms. A Monday in November against Gaudreau-less Calgary? Ouch.