Monday, June 27, 2022
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Amid contract noise, Campbell is a Team USA contender


A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. I deked through five Rangers while writing this blog.

1. Eleven American goalies play at the NHL level.

None of them have more wins (five), more shutouts (one), a better goals-against average (1.86), or a better save percentage (.932) than Jack Campbell this season.

Surely, Team USA’s Olympic decision-makers came into this season favouring the Vezina-winning Connor Hellebuyck or all-star John Gibson, and likely had an eye on emerging studs Thatcher Demko and Spencer Knight.

But Campbell — improving to 25-7-4 as a Maple Leaf — cannot be ignored in the Beijing conversation.

The Michigan native hasn’t worn the Red, White and Blue since 2015, when he won a bronze with his country at the world championships.

But he does have two world juniors medals, a gold from 2010 and a bronze from 2011, going a combined 7-2 in those tournaments.

Until it’s signed, the topic of Campbell’s next contract won’t go away.

“Whoever said we’re talking is full of crap,” Campbell’s agent Kurt Overhardt told Postmedia Friday.

“That’s so inaccurate. I can tell you that there’s been no material discussions (with the Leafs). Jack just wants to play hockey. That’s it.”

Of course, Campbell just wants to play. The less noise in his head, the better.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the Maple Leafs need a goaltending plan beyond this season, and there is mutual interest between player and club in extending the relationship.

One way or another, Campbell will get paid.

Overhardt needn’t be in a rush. We get that.

Some athletes are more comfortable than others performing their best knowing their future is secure.

“The bottom line is it’s frickin’ November,” Overhardt said.

“People need to relax and let him play hockey.”

2. Plenty of thoughts on the Jack Eichel trade. Here’s a couple quickies.

One is the poetry of Robin Lehner going to bat publicly for his former teammate — putting the NHL, the PA and the Sabres on blast via Twitter — only to be reunited with Eichel in Vegas:

Another is the sheer gall of Vegas Golden Knights management, with full support from owner Bill “All-In Always” Foley, to continually treat first-round prospects like pawns in pursuit of winning ASAP.

Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, Erik Brannstrom, Peyton Krebs: Vegas has traded its first four first-rounders in franchise history.

The result has been a wild – and wildly entertaining – window of immediate contention.

Sure, a few years from now the fall could be Coyote ugly. But enjoy the ride, Nevada.

3. Kyle Beach has taken further ownership of his case against the team that drafted him.

According to Rick Westhead, Beach’s lawyer asked the court to drop “John Doe” references from the file. From now on, it’s Kyle Beach vs Chicago Blackhawks Hockey Club.

Much more powerful.

Beach also requested the court to add a “fraudulent concealment” allegation.

4. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane both asked for a mulligan on their first public comments since Stan Bowman’s resignation and Beach’s interview.

“I feel bad about the last time I talked. I put my personal experience with management ahead of the way Kyle was treated by them,” Kane told reporters this week. “It takes incredible courage and pride for him to come forward. We’re all thinking about him.”

With so many cringeworthy reactions to the scandal around the league, it’s refreshing to hear voices like Lehner’s and Wayne Simmonds’.

As Brandon Carlo speaks about here, I respect how the Boston Bruins reacted to the investigation:

5. With Norris champ Adam Fox inking a seven-year, $66.5-million extension Monday, the New York Rangers have committed $53.45 million of its cap space to seven players from 2022-23 through 2024-25.

Fox, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Jacob Trouba, Barclay Goodrow, Igor Shesterkin.

There’s your core. Get it done.

“I feel like I’ve been a part of the Rangers my whole life, from being a kid, and to have this opportunity now and be with this organization for seven more years, it’s so special and I there’s no place I’d rather be,” said Fox, who grew up in Jericho, N.Y.

“Just joy. I wanted to be a New York Ranger and now that I’m here and here for a long time, it’s a huge honor for me, and I’m just so excited.”

6. Team Canada coach Jon Cooper says he did most of his scouting and familiarization legwork in the summer, dropping by informal skates of Olympic roster candidates and meeting with some of the likely players.

These first 10 or so games of the NHL season, Cooper’s focus has been almost exclusively on his Tampa Bay Lightning.

The coach says it’s unfair to judge Olympic players in games 1 through 5 anyway. They’re learning their systems, getting up to speed, and working out kinks with new linemates or D partners.

Now that the 10-game mark has passed, Cooper’s mock lineups for Beijing will intensify.

7. Mentioned by more than one NHL front office type: Could Zach Hyman be this Olympics’ Chris Kunitz?

Edmonton’s worker bee has seven goals and 10 points through 10 games on a Connor McDavid–led squad. Certainly, he wouldn’t need convincing to kill penalties or chug around on a fourth line.

A long shot, absolutely. But one who, as Chris Johnston reported, is confirmed to be Canada’s long list.

8. With Hyman moving on the Oilers, Alexander Kerfoot took over NHLPA rep duties for the Maple Leafs.

“When you’re involved in a profession like this, you want to be as involved as you can. Or, at least, that’s just how I am. I want information. I want to kind of be in the know,” explained Kerfoot. “I want to be informed in what’s going on around the league and then be able to provide input and help each other out.”

Kerfoot was on Monday’s call that ultimately decided on an investigation into how the PA mishandled the Kyle Beach file.

Kerfoot leans on veteran teammates Jason Spezza and John Tavares behind the scenes since they have more experience in league matters, but the Harvard alum is happy to step up in this role.

“It’s something I want to kind of grow into and learn a little bit more about,” Kerfoot says, “but there’s other guys like Spezz like J.T. who are also heavily involved.”

9. With the league ablaze in Beach’s wake and the Eichel blockbuster finally materializing, Marian Gaborik’s official retirement from the sport was hardly noticed.

Let’s enjoy the night the electric forward scored five…

…and this deep cut, where Gaborik does not score but breaks four ankles in creating a chance for himself. Beautiful:

10. Whenever he gets a chance after practice, Michael Bunting plants himself in the crease and works on retrieving odd-angle bounces off the side of the net and flipping pucks in.

Now he’s got assistant coach Manny Malhotra to help him with the drill.

“That’s my home. That’s my that’s where I play — in front of that. So I gotta master my skill there and I have to be able to whack those free pucks in the net,” Bunting says.

“Each angle that we try, there’s different shots that [have] a higher percentage of going in. So, I just try to get them up high and tight as quick as I can.”

When Bunting is at home watching hockey, he zeroes in on net-front experts like James van Riemsdyk and Corey Perry to steal tricks of the trade.

11. Whatever last season’s Patrik Laine–Pierre-Luc Dubois deal was, this year’s Jakub Voracek–Cam Atkinson trade is appearing like the opposite.

New scenery, great response.

Voracek has brought some experience to a Blue Jackets club that watched a ton of that walk out the door in a selloff year, and he’s notched nine assists through nine games. Despite being a winger, he’s become the playmaker Laine needed on Columbus’s top line. (Bummer: Laine is now sidelined four to six weeks.)

Atkinson, a onetime 40-goal guy, hit a low last year, scoring just 15 times in 56 games and posting a career-worst minus-16 rating. He burst out the gate buzzing: six goals and an assist in his first seven games.

12. Because it’s impossible to watch this too many times…




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