A big story this week has a highlight reel that looks stolen from the World Wresting Federation archives rather than NHL game tape.
In a Monday game between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, Tom Wilson lost the plot during a crease scrum. One of pro hockey’s best power forwards, Wilson is also prone to sketchy outbursts. This one left Artemi Panarin sidelined for the rest of the season.
Wilson was fined $5000 for the tirade that included smashing Pavel Buchnevich’s face into the ice and what might best be described as body-slamming Panarin. The Rangers issued a statement criticizing the judgment and calling for the firing of George Parros, the head of the NHL’s department of player safety.
The teams met again on Wednesday, May 5, and upon puck drop a brawl broke out, an apparent “code” response to Wilson’s behavior in the previous game. Remember when we all hoped the forced (barely) early retirement of Tim Peel would usher in a new era of accountability for NHL officiating?
Moving away from the Royal Rumble and back to hockey, this is a good time to look at how some of the biggest names who were moved on trade deadline day have adjusted to their new teams.
After the Nashville Predators took Mattias Ekholm off the market, few noteworthy defencemen changed teams. David Savard, Brandon Montour, Dmitri Kulikov and Jon Merrill all found new teams they will help in the post-season. But so far none have produced storylines worth dwelling on.
Among forwards, the buzzer beater on trade deadline day was Washington’s acquisition of Anthony Mantha. Mantha started out on a tear, scoring four goals and adding an assist in his first four games with the Caps, but has since returned to earth.
The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Mario Lemieux Nick Foligno from the Columbus Blue Jackets with a view to adding leadership and skilled grit to an already strong line up. Foligno has appeared in a few games but the Leafs appear to be load managing him so he can recover from nagging injuries in time for the playoffs.
Jeff Carter and Eric Staal are Cup veterans who found new homes for a late career run. Carter was brought to Pittsburgh to provide injury relief with Malkin and Blueger out, but also has the versatility to move around the line up when all are healthy. In his first leg with the Pens he is on a .5 point per game pace.
Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin saw a need to add a veteran centre to support his kids and his solution was Staal. Unfortunately, Staal’s best days are behind him and since scoring an overtime winner in his first game with the Habs, he has been deep in minus territory. Bergevin might have been better served to look to the Calgary Flames for help down the middle.
Remember the Jan. 30 Hockey Night in Canada broadcast when news broke that Sam Bennett had asked for a trade out of Calgary? A trade finally materialized at the deadline, with Bennett going to the Florida Panthers. Bennett has more points in his stay in the Sunshine State than he managed in 38 games in Calgary before the deal.
Perhaps the player who benefited most from a change of scenery was Taylor Hall. He spent most of the season languishing in Buffalo, a consequence of his self-imposed banishment. Hall has found new life with the Boston Bruins, playing on a line with David Krejci and Craig Smith. As of press deadline, Hall had 11 points (6G, 5A) in 13 games in Boston. If this pace continues, this deal will go down as the bargain of the 2021 deadline.
Mercifully, as you are reading this, you are in the last week of the season for the Raptors. As of press deadline, their chances to make the play-in tournament for 7th to 10th place teams in the conference had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
These Raptors may be in unfamiliar territory approaching the end of the regular season with little hope for a post-season, but they can take heart in the growth they’ve seen in young players, and the potential in a top 10 pick.
Blue Jays Babble
In the American League East, the story remains much the same.
The Boston Red Sox look to be the team to beat, and the Toronto Blue Jays are holding on around .500 while they wait for their line up to return to health. George Springer made his Jays debut after spending nearly all of April on the injured list. He has shown off his batting prowess, hitting two homeruns in his third game. But after just four games he was already needing rest, having not fully recovered from his quad injury. On Wednesday he was placed on the 10-day injured list.
In other news, the Jays will be playing closer to home by June 1. On Wednesday, May 5, the club announced they will be moving to Buffalo for their home games. They would prefer to be making the move home to the Rogers Centre, but a third wave of the pandemic and the continuing vaccine rollout make a stop in Buffalo necessary.
Close, but not quite home.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreation softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. A Newfoundlander living in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or even a debate, just as long as it remains respectful. She posts her gametime thoughts on twitter, particularly about hockey and the Montreal Canadiens, as @lori10habs