Ken Campbell

Ken Campbell, The Hockey News' senior writer, is in his second tour with the brand after an eight-year stint as a beat reporter for the Maple Leafs for the Toronto Star. The Sudbury native once tried out for the Ontario League's Wolves as a 30-year-old. Needless to say, it didn't work out.

The Right Way: The Maple Leafs complete franchise makeover is going swimmingly so far

Ken Campbell
William Nylander. (Graig Abel/Getty Images)

The Toronto Marlies are generally treated as the bastard child of the Toronto Maple Leafs, an afterthought in a hockey market where fans call into talk radio and wonder why their NHL team can’t just trade for P.K. Subban, like it’s that easy, or simply snap their fingers and sign Steven Stamkos and John Tavares when they become free agents. Toronto’s AHL franchise plays in a former horse palace, albeit a wonderfully refurbished one that makes for a great viewing experience, and despite being in the AHL’s biggest city and the Center of the Hockey Universe™ where they’re in first place and the NHL team is dead last, you can always get a ticket. Sometimes you might even have to pay for it. But there’s a lot of foot room for patrons since the arena is usually only about two-thirds full.

On this day in early February, however, the Marlies have the rule of the roost. The Maple Leafs are out of town on an extended road trip, so the Marlies take over the big club’s practice facility, a four-pad rink in the west end of the city. At one point during practice, Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe breaks the team into two groups, with one traipsing over to one rink to work exclusively on skill development and the other staying behind to work on systems.

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Fifteen players who are making great cases for the World Cup of Hockey

Logan Couture (left) and Brent Burns  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

The final rosters for The World Cash Grab of Hockey™ are due two weeks from today. They were originally supposed to be submitted June 1, but the league and the NHL Players’ Association decided they didn’t want the World Cup extras to overshadow the Stanley Cup final. The announcement would coincide with Game 7 of the Western Conference final if there is one, but both sides were willing to take that risk.

So for some players, the auditions for the final spots continue through the conference final and World Championship. And there’s no doubt that some players have used those platforms to either cement their spots or make for some very difficult decisions.

Here are players from each team that have willed their way into the World Cup conversation:

Brent Burns: Biggest no-brainer of the whole tournament. In fact, I had to go back to make sure he wasn’t on Canada’s roster already. That’s because Burns might not only be the best Canadian defenseman at the moment, he might be the best in the world. Adding Burns to a right defense corps that already has Drew Doughty and Shea Weber would be frightening.

Kris Letang: Canada plans to go with just four right-handed defensemen and already has two in Weber and Doughty, which leaves the other two spots for Burns and one of P.K. Subban or Letang. This is where the Canadian brain trust is going to have a very, very difficult decision to make.

Logan Couture: It shouldn’t matter that Canada already has nine natural centermen and just two wingers on its roster at the moment. Couture has been one of the best two-way players in these playoffs and despite getting fewer minutes than San Jose’s big guns, scored 11 points in the second round.

Taylor Hall/Matt Duchene: Both are playing well for Canada at the World Championship and if you’re going to get players to go to that tournament to audition for events such as the World Cup, you’d better be prepared to offer them spots when they produce.

Phil Kessel: The Americans might want to bring Nick Bonino along if they choose Kessel, but Kessel has proved he belongs with the best players in the world. The Americans are already well stocked at right wing with the likes of Patrick Kane, Blake Wheeler and T.J. Oshie, but there has to be room for a player who has performed as well as Kessel has.

Tyler Johnson: Ask yourself one question. If the World Cup team were being picked at this time last year, would Johnson have been included? You bet he would have. Well, right now he’s playing every bit as well as he did in last year’s playoffs. He deserves to at least grab the spot as the 13th forward.

Robby Fabbri: He’s been a winner and an impact player at every level he’s played and he’s proving to be a huge factor in the Blues’ run to the Western Conference final. He would give this team the speed and grit that will drive its opponents bonkers in the fall.

Jonathan Drouin: He has answered every character question people had of him. The talent has always been there, but there’s a jam to his game that is coming to the forefront. He’s an elite playmaker and is showing it.

Colton Parayko: The St. Louis Blues defenseman is playing 20 minutes a game and seems unfazed by the elevation in competition. And at 6-foot-5 and 214 pounds, he’ll give the kids some much-needed size.

Auston Matthews: The consensus No. 1 pick was “in tough” to make the team in the words of team management, but what more can he do to prove he belongs? He has been a beast at the worlds.

Nikita Nesterov: The 23-year-old has been in and out of the Tampa Bay lineup and has not seen a lot of ice time when he has played, but in limited viewing has displayed an ability to move the puck and create offensive opportunities.

Carl Hagelin: After being traded twice in less seven months, Hagelin has found a home in Pittsburgh playing on a line with Bonino and Kessel. One thing we’ve seen in these playoff is that speed kills and Hagelin has all sorts of it.

Radek Faksa: Of course Jaromir Jagr gets a spot if he wants it. But if this team is going to have any success at all in this tournament, it’s going to have to come from their young guys and Faksa did a good job with the Dallas Stars playing with a lot of energy and a competitive edge.

Patrik Laine: The Finns are tied for first in their division at the World Championship and Laine is leading them in scoring. Come on, Finland, make it happen. At the very least, it would give the country’s next big offensive star a taste of what it’s like to play against the best players in the world.

Tom Kuhnhackl: He’s getting a ton of big-game experience playing on Pittsburgh’s fourth line and despite playing only 12 minutes a game, has five points in these playoffs. His shorthanded goal in Game 1 of the first round basically buried the New York Rangers in that game and helped set the tone for the series.

American League means business when dealing with headshots

Ken Campbell
Andreas Johnson (via HockeyWebcast)

Dan Kelly of the Albany Devils made it oh-so-easy for the American League to toss the book at him. In fact, Andreas Johnson of the Toronto Marlies hadn’t even gotten up off the ice from the vicious headshot Kelly laid on him Tuesday night before people were predicting a double-digit suspension for him.

Clearly, Mr. Kelly has a difficult time learning to keep from hitting other players in the head, since he had already been suspending a game in December and another game last season for the same offense. Johnson, on the other hand, got almost no time to get accustomed to the learning curve when it comes to violence in North American professional hockey. After playing three years in the Swedish Elite League, he came over after the playoffs this year and was playing in just his second AHL game. The idea for him was to get a taste of the league before coming over to play full-time next season, not to get his head almost taken off.

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Blues shed their old reputation led by young Robby Fabbri

Robby Fabbri (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Robby Fabbri almost didn’t make the St. Louis Blues this season. And he was almost a healthy scratch in the first round of the playoffs. Seems crazy right about now, doesn’t it?

Regardless of which team wins tomorrow night’s Game 7 between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators, Fabbri will be the youngest player in the conference finals. He might also be the most unlikely, the most fun to watch, the most determined and the most involved. And if he keeps this up, he might just be a Stanley Cup champion, the top scorer in the playoffs and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner when it’s all said and done.

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Capitals will be back – and they’ll win a Stanley Cup someday

Braden Holtby  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Tuesday night was a terrible night to be a Washington Capitals fan. Wednesday will be an even worse day to be one. And the coming days, both in the short- and long-term in the off-season, will be tinged with regret and lamentations about what might have been.

This was a year when the Stanley Cup was the Capitals to lose…and they lost it. With a number of the heavyweights already out of the tournament in the first round, the Capitals came into the second round as the best team in the NHL and the prohibitive favorite. Instead, the Capitals and their fans will be left to ponder why a team with such an abundance of talent at all positions is such an abject failure in the playoffs.

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Babcock, Boudreau and Tippett prove NHL coaches should be all for salary disclosure

Ken Campbell
Bruce Boudreau (Getty Images)

The recent spate of coach signings has revealed two very clear notions. The first is that, as was the case with the players more than two decades ago, full salary disclosure would do wonders for the salaries of the 30 men behind NHL benches. The second is that all coaches and would-be NHL coaches should send Mike Babcock a Thank You card and box of chocolates.

The Minnesota Wild unveiled Bruce Boudreau as their new coach Tuesday afternoon and are paying him somewhere in the range of $3 million a year. This is the same Bruce Boudreau who was just fired in Anaheim, whose teams have won just five playoff rounds in nine years and can’t seem to win a Game 7 to save their lives. Dave Tippett, who hasn’t been involved in a playoff game in four years, won an organizational power struggle with GM Don Maloney and was rewarded with more responsibility as the executive vice president of the hockey department and a new five-year deal worth $4 million a season.

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Islanders facing a lot of questions after meekly bowing out of playoffs

Ken Campbell
New York Islanders  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

It’s interesting how perceptions can change in such a short period of time. For example, does anyone feel a little less optimistic about the future of the New York Islanders now than they did when the playoffs began?

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Islanders were a 100-point team, a franchise that looked poised to eventually become a legitimate force in the NHL. But after being outplayed in the first round by the Florida Panthers and winning basically on the backs of Thomas Greiss and John Tavares, then meekly exiting in the second round to a team that was missing two key players, things don’t look quite so rosy now.

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Swagger trumps caution as Tampa Bay takes series stranglehold

Ken Campbell
Net-cam view of Jason Garrison's OT goal (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

BROOKLYN – Ladies and gentlemen, what you witnessed here over the past two games is the difference between a veteran team that went to the Stanley Cup final and took a lot of notes and one that won its first playoff series in 23 years. And if you needed any more confirmation of that, all you had to do was look at Nikita Kucherov after Game 4 Friday night.

Kucherov had just emerged from the ice, victorious for the second straight time in overtime, with another enormous goal to his credit and the playoff goal scoring lead with eight. But as he sat at his stall staring into space after the Lightning’s 2-1 overtime win over the New York Islanders, he looked about as excited as a guy sitting on a bench in the mall while his wife looks at…Every. Little. Thing. In. The. Store. (Amirite, guys?)

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