Marc-Andre Fleury Image by: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Will 'Flower' get a Hall call someday? Should Makar have accepted Canada's Olympic invite? What does it mean to "stick to sports"? And more hot topics in this week's mailbag.
I’m feeling a little philosophical. That’s the overarching theme of this week’s Ask Me Anything mailbag. You know the trade rumors will gather major steam as the Feb. 26 deadline approaches, so we’ll have plenty of chances to tackle trade-related questions in the weeks to come. This time, though, I’ve chosen just one trade-related question and focus instead on some out-of-the-ordinary topics, from Canada’s freshly minted Olympic squad to a certain goaltender’s Hall of Fame credentials. Enjoy and feel free to debate in the comment section. And again, my apologies if I didn’t get to your question in here this week. I’ll at least try to answer you briefly on Twitter if I can find the time.
Kevin Barrette (@KB_Tendy20) asks…
Any surprises for Team Canada’s Olympic squad? Also, who are you looking at in particular?
Hey Kevin! We could call the entire roster a surprise given I always thought the NHL would eventually strike a deal to play in the 2018 Winter Games. But here we are staring down a roster of NHL washouts. As for individual surprises, the biggest might be Wojtek Wolski in the sense that it’s a surprise to see him playing hockey at all anymore. He sustained a broken neck in a horrific on-ice crash playing in the KHL in 2016. He is lucky be alive and walking today, let alone playing Olympic hockey for Canada, so he’s quite the story.
I realize that’s not really answering your question, though. You’re wondering which picks surprise me in a true hockey sense, right? Given the tourney will be played on the larger ice surface, I was a bit shocked to see a guy like Rob Klinkhammer make the team. He’s a big, strong checker but will never be confused with a burning skater. His style of game plays best in tighter spaces. Then again, he’s spent the past several seasons in the KHL, so he’s adjusted to the bigger surface. Sean Burke and the Canada brass put a lot of research into these picks, so I don’t see any major whiffs here. I know some people expressed surprise over Barry Brust not making the team as a goalie but, to me, Ben Scrivens and Justin Peters were always going to make Canada given their NHL experience, and Kevin Poulin solidified the last spot by helping Canada win the Spengler Cup last month, posting a 36-save shutout in the deciding game.
As for who I’m most excited to watch on the team? I’d say Chris Lee. He’s had great career as a puck-moving defenseman in the KHL, and he played for Canada’s World Championship team last spring as part of a blueline that included Colton Parayko, Tyson Barrie, Michael Matheson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Josh Morrissey, Calvin de Haan and Jason Demers. If Lee could hang with that group, he should theoretically be the class of an otherwise inexperienced Canadian D-corps in Pyeongchang. That’s pretty amazing considering he’s 37 and has never suited up in an NHL game.
Retire29 (@burghforever87) asks…
Does Marc-Andre Fleury make the Hall of Fame?
This is a fun one because I’ve thought about it a lot recently and even discussed it with Fleury. I was on the floor in Vegas right after he was unveiled as the Golden Knights’ final expansion draft selection in June. I pointed out that Fleury was already 15th all-time in victories at 375 and that, if he averaged a modest 30 wins a year for six more years, he’d pass Patrick Roy for sole possession of second on the league’s all-time wins list. I was curious if Fleury paid attention to that kind of thing. Here’s what he said:
“Yeah, I took a look at it. It’s pretty cool. I’ve been lucky to play with a lot of good players and win some games. I want to keep winning, not to get up there, not to get No. 3, I just want to win so our team’s successful, to get in the playoffs and have success in the playoffs. That’s what matters.”
So yes, he qualified it afterward with the usual clichéd talk of just wanting his team to be successful, but I like that he admitted he checks the stats. Not a lot of players do. Fleury thus has some interest in climbing the all-time wins ladder. He’s 9-2-1 over a stellar but injury-shortened first half with the Golden Knights and, given what a powerhouse they’ve been, he has a shot at winning 16 more times and reaching 400 victories by season’s end. He sits at 384 and, with six more victories, he’ll pass Dominik Hasek. By next season Fleury should eclipse Grant Fuhr, Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito. The year after that, Terry Sawchuk and Jacques Plante should be within reach.
Wins obviously aren’t everything. I’m typically of the mind they’re the most overrated stat when evaluating goalies in hockey and pitchers in baseball. But that argument only works to a point. When you’ve won as many games as Fleury has, all those Ws start to symbolize a career of longevity and sustained success. He lacks individual hardware, with no Vezina Trophies to his name in his career, and of his three Stanley Cup rings, only one was earned with him starting all the way through the post-season for the Penguins. Still, there’s a strong chance the victories alone vault Fleury into the Hall discussion, and if he stays healthy enough to become the third member of the 500-win club…how can you keep him out? Working against Fleury is he’s succeeded by long being one of the sport’s most athletic goaltenders, which means his play could suddenly fall off a cliff. He’s the opposite of, say, Ed Belfour, who relied on superb positioning and thus remained a top-end goalie into his late 30s.
What would all but clinch a Hall call for Fleury, of course, is if he can lead the Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup and even win a Conn Smythe. How crazy is it that we can talk about that as a real possibility for this June? Unreal.
Joel Lander (@JoelLander1891) asks…
In the midway ranking for the Selke Trophy, where do you put Sean Couturier and Auston Matthews?
Hey Joel. Both are outstanding defensive forwards. To me, Sean Couturier is heavily in the Selke Trophy mix and for some might even be the frontrunner. His 21:15 of ice time per game places him fourth among all forwards. He’s a good faceoff man. He has some of the best possession numbers in the league, ranking top-10 among forwards with 300 or more minutes in Corsi relative to his teammates and ranking among the leaders in Corsi Against per 60 despite battling opponents’ top lines. He kills penalties. So Couturier is right in the hunt and should be through to the end of the season. The only problem: Patrice Bergeron still beats Couturier in all those stat categories. It’s “boring” to some, but that doesn’t change the fact Bergeron remains the best defensive forward of this generation – and perhaps all-time. If he snags the Selke this season, he’ll win his fifth to pass Bob Gainey for the all-time record. Bergeron would be No. 1 on my ballot right now, with Couturier likely No. 2, and the likes of Anze Kopitar and Aleksander Barkov close behind.
As for Matthews: he has some excellent defensive skills, especially in the takeaway department. He’s right up there with the Ottawa Senators’ Mark Stone as the league’s pest pure pickpocket. Matthews has drastically improved his faceoff percentage as well, from 46.9 percent to 55.0 percent. But Matthews plays far fewer minutes than the other elite defensive forwards and isn’t asked to kill penalties. That puts him out of the top tier of Selke contenders in my mind for now. Doesn’t mean he’s not a great two-way forward, though.
Colin Edwards (@ceds_13) asks…
If you were Cale Makar, would you have accepted the invitation to play in the Olympics? Had to be tough to say no.
That’s the question on so many of our minds this week, isn’t it? And we won’t know exactly what Makar’s motivations were until or unless he reveals why he declined the invite to Team Canada.
In an emotional sense, my first reaction is, “Sure, I totally would’ve said yes! Come on! It’s the Olympics!” But Makar’s situation isn’t so black and white. First off, it’s likely he would’ve been deployed on Team Canada not as a top-pair, big-minutes blueliner but as a power play specialist who earns minimal even-strength ice time. If that’s how Canada used him at the world juniors, it’s tough to see him getting increased responsibility on a team of grown men, almost all of whom have NHL experience. Makar is a tantalizing prospect for the Colorado Avalanche, and there’s a reason why he went fourth overall in the 2017 NHL draft, but this kid was picked out of the Albert Junior League. It’s not like he’s swimming in experience. And because he’s an exciting young player and would be the only one of that ilk on the Olympic team, he’d face some undeserved pressure to work wonders as the only Team Canada member whose raw skill level could one day make him Olympic-worthy even on an NHL-laden team. We know who the rest of Team Canada’s guys are. We don’t yet know who Makar will be, and that might put the weight of expectations on him at the Winter Games.
He also just missed a month of his freshman year at UMass-Amherst for the WJC and is likely eager to (a) rejoin his teammates there and (b) catch up on all the class he’s missed. In a practical, real-world sense, it’s easy to understand why this 19-year-old kid could simply use a breather. He also likely feels fulfilled in international competition having just won a WJC gold medal.
Will he one day regret not accepting the invitation to play in the Olympics? Quite possibly, especially if NHLers return to the games and he develops into a player not good enough to make those star-studded squads. But, pragmatically, I totally understand why he chose to walk away from the opportunity.
Tim Hewitt (@timhewitt02) asks…
Other than Mike Green, what other players do the Red Wings sell?
The Wings are sellers, no doubt, but selling won’t be the easiest task for GM Ken Holland because so many of the pieces he’d like to sell have too many seasons left on their contracts for too much money. I can’t imagine any team wants to take on several years of Darren Helm or Justin Abdelkader at $3.85 million and $4.25 million, respectively. Two-way center Frans Nielsen has the type of skill set many contender teams seek but, again, he’s 33 and has four more years after this one at $5.25 million per. Blueliner Trevor Daley has Stanley Cup pedigree to offer after his time in Pittsburgh but would be a risky rental as a 34-year-old with two more years on his deal. See the pattern? All these players would be viable rentals if they were nearing the ends of their deals, but they’re nowhere close. The Red Wings just have so many prohibitive contracts.
I’d start by looking at Petr Mrazek. He never could establish himself as the team’s long-term starter in net and hasn’t taken well to backup duty. At 24 and an RFA this summer, though, he isn’t out of upside. I could see a goaltending-starved team taking a chance on him if he comes cheap – a team with an injured starter or a team unhappy with its starter and wanting to bring in someone with enough talent to create competition. As for Detroit's skaters, maybe a team decides someone like Tomas Tatar or Gus Nyquist, each still in his 20s, has enough goals left in his stick to warrant taking on his salary.
Detroit also has sufficient salary-cap headaches that it may have to make a decent young player available. The Wings currently have the highest cap number of any team in the NHL and, even with Green’s $6 million coming off the books this summer, have to sign RFAs Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou, among others. Larkin and Mantha are obviously the top priorities, and their deals alone could put Detroit over the cap, so maybe Athanasiou, who offers speed and dangling ability, becomes available in the weeks to come.
Andrew Allen (@AndrewAllen2) asks…
Do you block people that demand you “stick to sports”? I would.
Hey Andrew. I answered you briefly on Twitter but want to further expand on this important topic. The “stick to sports” complaint is always unfortunate for multiple reasons.
For one, we journalists are not robots who are mandated to only dispense tweets and opinions about our areas of expertise. We are human beings, and it’s difficult to ignore how turbulent the world is right now. Some things just transcend the sport.
That said, I do try to keep political commentary off my social media – unless the politics involve something specific to my sport. That’s what I don’t understand: if I’m writing about alt-right neo-Nazi groups brandishing Detroit Red Wings logos on their shields, how is that not news? I work for The Hockey News, and to me it’s news when a group of Nazis uses an NHL team’s logo.
Same goes for the inspiring, positive stories out there. The CWHL’s Jessica Platt just revealed that she’s transgendered. By talking about her, we are “sticking to sports.” She is a professional hockey player doing something very brave within her sport. It’s important to talk about trailblazing people like her and the NWHL’s Harrison Browne, just as it was important to talk about Willie O'Ree when he broke the color barrier.
And look at J.T. Brown, who not only stood up for racial inequality by raising his fist during the U.S. national anthem, but also inspired Tampa police chief Brian Dugan to form a relationship with him as a result. Brown has gone on ridealongs to learn about how the police operate and wants young people and the police to better understand each other instead of viewing each other with preconceived notions. I spoke with him at length about his work with the Tampa PD recently, and the one thing he said that stuck with me most was, “Had I not raised my fist, would I have this relationship with chief Dugan?” Brown didn’t make an empty gesture. He effected real change. And that is absolutely news. He’s a hockey player, so telling his story is in fact…drumroll…sticking to sports.
As for the question of blocking people on Twitter: I don’t do it unless people hurl racist or homophobic slurs or get especially hostile. Most of the time, if people are rude and I engage them, they end up apologizing after a bit of back-and-forth conversation. It’s like they feel guilty the moment they get a response and realize they’re speaking with an actual living, breathing person.