Sudden thoughts and ulterior motives.
These words are not mine. They’re borrowed from one of my favorite sports columnists, award-winning Bill Lyon, who wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer for 33 years. The beauty of a random thoughts column is the number of topics that can be included and the feeling that the conversation has been stimulated.
My hockey head is very busy these days — the NHL trade deadline is approaching, playoff pictures are looming — and I can’t focus on just one thing. There are too many topics.
- Did the refereeing suddenly go wrong? Like just last week? Controversial late-game calls, or no-calls, in Edmonton, Toronto, and a heated exchange between the team captain and Colorado’s striped men were on everyone’s radar. This is not new; it is secular. But the calls went against the home team. And the refereeing didn’t get any worse, the referees had some tough calls. We are reminded that they are also human. It happens.
- Michael Bunting has been the perfect fit on the front line in Toronto, perfectly complementing league leading scorer Auston Matthews and the electric Mitch Marner. Everything works because it is the exact opposite of what they are. The 26-year-old longshot, who had played 26 NHL games before this season, has become a constant pain for the opposition, both in his play and his presence.
- Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe and his staff have tough goaltending decisions to make, and they won’t be made easier by an away game in Hamilton on Sunday. Embattled Petr Mrázek will start after being fired four shaky goals 32 minutes into his last start against Arizona. The question is whether a fair assessment is even possible in an unusual outdoor location.
- Does anyone in the NHL, other than maybe half a dozen teams run by Tampa Bay, like their goalie situation? The goaltender is still a vital part of the playoffs, and there have never been so many questions about the position. The impending trade deadline doesn’t help, because fans know that after that point, they’re stuck with what they have.
- On the goalkeeping front (or lack thereof), last week saw a throwback to the 1980s, with scores of 10-7, 8-5, 8-4 and 9-2 leading the charge . The coaches are freaking out, the fans are having fun. We praise the 80s as a great time in hockey history, but somehow we want to be better and play low-scoring games. Is defense really better than attack?
- I asked our good friends at Sportlogiq if the compression of games imposed on players had a fatigue effect on defensive play, and they dig. Just watching a team play five games in seven days is tiring, and if a tired player has a choice between scoring or defending, I think we know what most would choose.
- Florida’s rise to an elite level has seen general manager Bill Zito get plenty of well-deserved credit for adding a number of critical plays, but the work of interim coach Andrew Brunette can’t be ignored. . Seamlessly succeeding Joël Quenneville in difficult circumstances, the NHL’s first head coach excelled. He also looks like he’s having fun doing it.
- Vegas’ first visit to Buffalo with superstar Jack Eichel produced an entertaining post-game clip when the former Saber drew attention to the raucous – not always positive – reception he received. What missed was another loss in Vegas, leaving the Golden Knights at the bottom edge of the playoff table, far from their expected seat at the top of the West. A first playoff failure would rock a franchise that has been stellar since day one.
- Ottawa’s core group continues to grow, as a healthy Josh Norris stormed into the lineup with six points in his first four games. One of the pieces acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade, Norris looks like a legitimate No. 1 center and joins Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle (a pick also acquired in the Karlsson deal), Thomas Chabot and Drake Batherson to give to Senators fans a lot of hope. With Shane Pinto and Jake Sanderson on the horizon, and key veterans like Connor Brown as professional mentors, Ottawa will be tough to contend with down the stretch.
- With the trade deadline just over a week away, all was eerily quiet. This will change. It’s a market and it will find its level. Teams will be looking for the next Blake Coleman or Barclay Goodrow. Tampa Bay found them, paid the price and won two Stanley Cups. The temptation to find the perfect missing piece is too great. There is a balance between teams clearly present and teams clearly absent, with the middle group of maybes in the lead.
It is a daunting task to write a style column modeled on a caption. Sudden thoughts and ulterior motives. I hope Bill Lyon is smiling.