Just like the Golden State Warriors, the Maple Leafs have blown a 3-1 series lead in the first round of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Is it the Drake curse?
Regardless, the Maple Leafs couldn’t get it done. I’m sure the entire hockey universe will be talking about this for years to come. That is this week’s first take.
My other takes highlight some of my favorite moments from Game 1 between the ‘Avs and Golden Knights. That game alone provided two worthy takes. My last two takes are a surprise. Keep reading for some great hockey content.
1. Montreal Knocks Off Toronto
If you’re a Maple Leaf’s fan, you should stop reading. Once again, the most-famous team in hockey has choked in a first-round series.
I’m not going to go into detail about how good this Toronto team is; we all know that they’re stacked. What I will say is, they drafted Auston Matthews with the number one overall pick in 2016. They’ve made the playoffs each season since then, and they’ve lost in the first round or qualifying round in all five seasons. It was okay in the first year or two when they were still very young. It’s not okay when you’re the sixth-best team in the league and are paying three forwards more than $10 million.
What really hurts is that the Leafs didn’t even play that bad, and the Canadiens didn’t even play that great. It would have been one thing if Carey Price would have put the team on his back and had a Dominik Hasek 1998 Olympic-level performance. But he didn’t. He was very, very good. But not otherworldly. The Leafs still scored goals. They won two games by four goals.
They just can’t get it done when it counts. They blew a 3-1 series lead and lost two games in OT. If one tweet sums up this Maple Leafs team, it’s this one from Matt Larkin of The Hockey News.
Honestly, what do you do if you’re Kyle Dubas? A dominant regular-season team, vastly improved defense, home ice advantage, the Rocket Richard winner. And this is the result.
Like, I’d be out of ideas in his shoes.
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) June 1, 2021
If I’m Dubas, I’d have to put this same team on the ice again. They are too talented and too expensive to break up. You would think they would luck into a few ones eventually, right?
Regardless, congrats to the Canadiens for a massive upset. They deserved to win this series and now have epic bragging rights over their provincial rivals.
2. Ryan Reaves Suspended
Game One of the second round did not go as planned for the Golden Knights. Not only did they get blasted 7-1 by the Colorado Avalanche, but Ryan Reaves was suspended two games for his actions in the third period. Late in the game, Reaves decked ‘Avs defensemen Adam Graves, which resulted in a match penalty. Graves was injured on the play and Colorado received a lengthy power play. Here is the hit.
Ryan Reaves given a match penalty, not a misconduct, for his actions in this scrum in front of Colorado net. Cross-checks Grubauer in the back of the head and then throws down Graves. pic.twitter.com/y0h5LPgVH2
— NHL Safety Watch (@NHLSafetyWatch) May 31, 2021
I know it is Reaves’s job to be an enforcer and attempt to change the momentum for his club. However, with his team down big, there was no purpose to his actions. All he did was take himself out of the next two games. Reaves is not the most-skilled player, so he won’t be missed as much as William Karlsson or Shea Theodore. Still, Reaves made no positive contribution to his team.
I understand why fighting is still in the game. It allows players to police themselves. That’s all well and good. It’s stuff like this that makes zero sense to me. Seeing as Reaves doesn’t make as much money, maybe losing a paycheck will convince him to hold back next time.
3. Gretzky Leaves Oilers for TNT
Last week, Wayne Gretzky posted this message on Twitter announcing he was leaving his role as a partner and vice-chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group.
— Wayne Gretzky (@WayneGretzky) May 25, 2021
The tweet took many by surprise as there was zero context on why Gretzky was leaving. That was until news broke that Gretzky would join TNT’s broadcast team. It was reported that Gretzky will serve as a studio analyst for TNT. According to the article, TNT is trying to build a show similar to ‘Inside the NBA,’ which is wildly popular.
Gretzky is a massive get for TNT. There is no bigger name in hockey than Gretzky. TNT paid a lot for the rights to broadcast games, and it’s clear they’re not fucking around when it comes to getting eyeballs on their content.
Regardless of TNT’s business plan, this is great for the game of hockey. Gretzky generates attention. If he’s going to be on TV talking about hockey, people are going to watch. This should help generate additional attention for TNT’s games this upcoming season.
4. Seth Jones to Test Free Agency
With one year left on his contract, Seth Jones has announced that he will not re-up with the Blue Jackets before the start of free agency. That will no doubt leave many NHL teams salivating at the thought of being able to sign Jones in the summer of 2022. Jones is entering the last year of a six-year deal with a $5.4 million AAV he signed with Columbus.
Jones has quickly become one of the best defensemen in the NHL since being traded to Columbus from Nashville. The 26-year-old has averaged 0.59 PPG since joining the Blue Jackets, notching three 40-point seasons. This season was the first full season a Blue Jackets team with Jones did not make the playoffs.
Jones is going to get paid the second he hits free agency. Jones currently has the 47th highest AAV among defensemen. I would be shocked if he did not enter the top ten when he signs his next deal. For reference, I would expect Jones to net a deal with an AAV between $8-$9 million. That’s a high number, but he’ll be entering his prime at 27-years-old. If Jones signs a contract with an AAV of at least $8 million, he would tie Jacob Trouba, Thomas Chabot, Brent Burns, and John Carlson as the seventh highest-paid defensemen in the NHL. The only D-men that makes more money are Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Alex Pietrangelo, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
It wouldn’t be outlandish to say Jones is just as good, if not better, than a lot of names on that list. The team that plans on signing Jones better start pinching their pennies now if they want him to suit up for their team next season.
5. Nathan MacKinnon Scores Wonder Goal
As usual, I like to share my favorite highlight of the week. This highlight comes from the same game Reaves injured Graves. It’s courtesy of Nathan MacKinnon.
Welcome to the Nathan MacKinnon show, everyone. #StanleyCup
NHL x @massmutual
— NHL (@NHL) May 31, 2021
MacKinnon is a cheat code. When you watch him, he doesn’t look as fast as he is. When you watch McDavid, it’s obvious he skates circles around the other players. For some reason, MacKinnon has never looked as fast as players like McDavid. But, he’s that fast. This play shows that. Not only is he fast, he skates with more power than any player I’ve ever seen.
He gets this puck a stride or two in front of both Golden Knights’ defensemen, just in front of the blue line. By the team he reaches the faceoff dot, he’s clear of both defensemen. I love his finish, starting from the right, moving left, then shooting to Robin Lehner’s right side.
I hope this is the year the Avalanche make the Stanley Cup Finals because MacKinnon is a human highlight reel that the world needs to see. ■