Willes: Rust makes for some exciting hockey inside the Edmonton bubble

Opinion: “The rust factor has been self-evident for each team but sloppy hockey is generally more exciting than structured hockey.”

In honour of playoff hockey in August, we offer the following bubblicious musings and mediations on the world of sports.

Tkachuk’s intent remains unclear

Paul Maurice’s anger is understandable but, in looking at the incident involving Mark Scheifele and Matthew Tkachuk, it’s impossible to establish intent on Tkachuk’s part.

Still, that didn’t stop the Jets’ head coach from trying.

Early in the first period of Saturday night’s 4-1 Flames’ victory over the Jets, Tkachuk, the Flames’ uber-agitator, came into contact with Scheifele along the boards. Tkachuk’s skate came up and hit the Jets’ star centre on the back of his left leg when it was pinned against the wall, resulting in what looks to be a serious injury.

After countless reviews, the play seems to be more about bad timing and bad luck than any malfeasance on Tkachuk’s part.

That, at least, is the way the NHL sees it.

Maurice is another matter.

“It was intentional,” Maurice said after the game. “It was a filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg. You can’t see it on the program feed but take the blueline feed and you zoom in. He went after the back of his leg. He could have cut his Achilles. He could have ended the man’s career. It’s an absolutely filthy, disgusting hit.”

Maurice was asked to revisit the subject on Sunday morning. If you were wondering if he’d softened his stance, guess again.

“I don’t think (Tkachuk) came off the bench and said, ‘Hey I’m going to see if I can go stab the back of Mark Scheifele’s leg with my skate,’ “ Maurice said. “I think he got to that point and I think that’s exactly what he did. But I don’t think he’s skating across the ice thinking that’s what I’m going to do. I think he plays at a level, he’s on the edge, he crosses it sometimes. He crossed it in my mind clearly. That’s exactly how I feel.” 

This one, of course, is going to be replayed and re-adjudicated for years to come, especially in Winnipeg. Scheifele is a foundational player on a very good Jets team. He’s been a point-a-game centre over the last four seasons and two years ago he scored 14 playoff goals in the Jets’ run to the Western Conference final.

As teammate Blake Wheeler said: “You can’t replicate what he brings to the lineup,” and the Jets were dominated over the game’s final 50 minutes. To add further insult, they also lost sniper Patrik Laine to an apparent hand injury.

Maurice didn’t supply an update on either player but both were seeing specialists. That’s about 70 goals and 160 points taken out of the Jets’ lineup which might explain why they were still incensed on Sunday.

I don’t know if he meant to try and cut him but it’s one of those plays where, how often does your skate come off the ice and land on a guy’s ankle?” said the Jets’ Adam Lowry. “That’s where I stand on it. I don’t think it’s accidental.” 

Tkachuk, for his part, expressed remorse over the injury and concern for Scheifele, who he trains with in the Gary Roberts group over the summer.  But he characterized the incident as a hockey play that went bad.

“It looked like his left leg got caught there but at no point did my skate hit him there,” Tkachuk said.

At the risk of stating the obvious, losing Scheifele and Laine represents a double whammy which will be almost impossible for the Jets to overcome. Maurice know that. He also knows his only chance might be to turn Scheifele’s injury into a cause. Again, that’s understandable to a point and it’s made for some lively copy. But it doesn’t change anything for the Jets, Scheifele or Tkachuk.

Some general thoughts on the games thus far

– Special teams generally play a determining role in the postseason, but they’ve taken on an added importance early in the qualifying round. The first five games produced 58 power plays, which works out to an average of more than 11 man-advantage situations per game. There were 10 power play goals over those five games.

Penalty killing, moreover, isn’t exactly a strength of the Canucks. They finished 16th in the NHL during the regular season with an 80.5 kill rate and one of the reasons Jake Virtanen isn’t in the lineup is they’re thin on penalty killers.

– The rust factor has been self-evident for each team but sloppy hockey is generally more exciting than structured hockey. Not all the games were shootouts but there were enough scoring chances, odd-man rushes and scrambles to provide an entertaining product.

– It’s conceded the Calder will come down to Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar, but you wonder if Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik would have been a factor if the regular season had concluded.

Kubalik, who had five points in the Hawks 6-4 win over Edmonton on Saturday, had 30 goals when play was suspended and Chicago had 12 games left on their schedule. If he gets that number up to the high 30s, he might have changed some voters minds.

Hoop memories

We told you about the Canucks posting a video of Elias Pettersson shooting baskets during the lockdown. Now here’s a related entry from the limited Scandinavian hockey star playing basketball in Edmonton genre.

Some 30 years ago, Teemu Selanne and a younger, spryer reporter took on Phil Housley and Tie Domi in a spirited game of two-on-two at the old Centre Club in Edmonton.

We lost. Teemu, great guy, great hockey player, terrible at hoops. These are the things you think about at the end of the road.

The case for Evander Kane

And finally,  Evander Kane has been branded as many things throughout his NHL career: talented, yes, but also lazy, immature, selfish and, ultimately, a coach-killer. He’s been traded twice, which generally doesn’t happen to a player with his skill set unless, you know, there’s a problem. And the second time, when he went from Buffalo to San Jose, he was dealt for 50 cents on the dollar.

But when you hear Kane speak these days on behalf of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, you see someone different; you see a leader, someone trying to make a difference while holding authority accountable.

Kane, the 29-year-old Vancouverite, has become one of the leading voices in the HDA, a relatively new group which has found its way into the game’s new cycle. The NHL, it seems, has noticed the world is changing and has adopted racism as one of its causes. Great, but their early efforts have registered as contrived and hollow, an ongoing photo op which offers little in the way of substance and Kane has called them on it.

“The NHL can put ‘Black Lives Matter’ all over the rink, shout “Black Lives Matter from the mountains,” Kane told TSN’s Frank Seravalli. “No matter what they do or say they’re going to fall on deaf ears with every other person in HDA because the league has made no effort to support its own Black players.”

Wait a minute. That wasn’t in the NHL’s script.

This was the opening salvo in what promises to be a long campaign but, at the very least, Kane and his colleagues have put the NHL on notice. They’re agitating for change. They have concrete goals which are expressed on their website. These are serious men on a mission.

This isn’t something we’re throwing together together as a publicity stunt,” Kane said on Sportsnet. “This is something we’re trying to do to create a cause and effect and change and grow out game in the right way, in a way it’s never been grown before.

“This is only a start.”

No, it takes time to change people’s hearts but this appears to be the time for Kane and his group.

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