NHL Wins and Sins: Auston Matthews and William Nylander, Teddy Bear Tosses, Seattle expansion, more

It’s time for our weekly installment highlighting what’s right and what’s wrong with the NHL during every week throughout the season. For all the things there are to love about the NHL and its product, there’s also plenty to hate and plenty to criticize.  With that in mind, let’s hash it out together … right

It’s time for our weekly installment highlighting what’s right and what’s wrong with the NHL during every week throughout the season. For all the things there are to love about the NHL and its product, there’s also plenty to hate and plenty to criticize. 

With that in mind, let’s hash it out together … right here … every single Wednesday. 

Loving and/or hating something about the NHL at any given point throughout this season? Feel free to drop your praise/complaints in my email inbox at email inbox

What’s right: The return of Auston Matthews & William Nylander

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Pete Blackburn photo illustration

While it’s usually unthinkable to wish good things upon the Maple Leafs if you live outside of Toronto, I have to admit that I’m looking at the return of Matthews & Nylander as a positive this week. Matthews is an insanely fun player to watch and he started this season on a hellish pace, so it was rather disappointing to see him go down with a shoulder injury in October.

Luckily for the Leafs, he was able to pick right back up where he left off — tearing up the league as only one of the best players in the world can. In Matthews’ first game back (last Wednesday against the Sharks) he scored twice and tallied an assist. There may be nobody in the league who scores better sounding goals than Matthews, and we got some sweet ping in his return.

Matthews also scored twice (and added an assist) in the Leafs’ contest Tuesday against the Sabres, including a filthy snipe to beat Buffalo in the dying seconds of overtime.

Matthews has scored played three games since returning a week ago and has five goals and seven points in that span. He’s got 15 goals in 14 total games this season, making him just the second player since 1996-97 to score 15 or more goals within his first 14 games of a season. (Simon Gagne had 16 goals through 14 games in 2005-06.)

So, yeah, he’s still good as hell. 

Meanwhile, the Nylander saga mercifully came to an end on Saturday, but not before going down to the wire in beautifully dramatic fashion. Just minutes before Saturday’s restricted free agency deadline, Nylander and the Leafs came to an agreement on a six-year deal worth $ 45 million. Credit to Leafs GM Kyle Dubas for not blinking during the impasse and getting Nylander to come down on his ask, as the $ 6.9M cap hit that the winger will carry in years two through six is relatively affordable, even for the Leafs’ impending cap crunch. 

The deal ended the months-long contract standoff between Nylander the Leafs and, more importantly, the circus of media speculation and hot takes surrounding it. It may seem a little unfair that the Leafs, who have already looked quite dangerous without Nylander this season, will get to add yet another explosive weapon to their attack, but it would have been more unfair if we all had to suffer through the fallout had he not signed a deal. The additional months of endless speculation and bitterness that would have spawned from Toronto may have sent each and every one of us over the edge. 

The most important thing is that a 22-year-old kid who should be entering the prime of his career won’t have to miss a full season, and fans get to watch yet another young, exciting player get added back into the mix. And also Leafs fans won’t get to use his absence as an excuse when they inevitably find a way to soil themselves in the playoffs. 

The Maple Leafs take on the Red Wings on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET, and fans in the Detroit market can stream the game on fuboTV (try for free).

What’s wrong: Tyler Bertuzzi

Tyler Bertuzzi landed himself a two-game suspension this week as a result of sucker punching a Colorado Avalanche player from the Red Wings‘ bench. 

With the Avalanche leading Detroit 1-0 near the tail end of the third period, Matt Calvert was checked near the Wings’ bench and his stick went flailing into the bench area. A couple of Red Wings players, including Bertuzzi, decided to grab the stick in an attempt to prevent Calvert from rejoining the play. It’s an illegal play, but one that’s not all that uncommon of an interference tactic used by opposing players. 

Usually, players will just have to tug and jerk their stick free to resume play, but this particular incident got ugly pretty fast. Calvert grew increasingly frustrated and antagonized by the Wings’ refusal to let his stick go, and it appears that he eventually attempted to spear Bertuzzi in the gut with the blade of the stick as a means to get him to let go. 

Detroit’s bench did not take kindly to this, and Bertuzzi and  Dylan Larkin both grabbed ahold of Calvert and pull him toward the bench. While Calvert was tied up with Larkin, Bertuzzi shook off a glove and delivered a nasty bare-knuckled uppercut shot to Calvert’s head.

Obviously, you have to issue a suspension for this and two games seems about right, so good on the Department of Player Safety for getting that right. You can’t just have guys taking cheap shots like this, especially from the bench and especially when a guy is already tied up in a headlock. 

That being said, neither side is completely innocent here. The sucker punch is clearly the most egregious infraction and had to be punished, especially considering it wasn’t penalized in-game, but I’m surprised that Calvert’s spear (or attempted spear, at least) wasn’t fined, or even addressed in the suspension ruling. Just as the spear doesn’t justify the sucker punch, the holding of Calvert’s stick doesn’t justify the spear. 

Both Bertuzzi and Calvert could have handled this better, but Bertuzzi is clearly the guy who is more in the wrong and that suspension is well-deserved. I know hockey is wild and often violent, but this isn’t a completely lawless land. Stick to punching people when you’re on the ice, my guy.

What’s right: Seattle

The worst kept secret in sports is officially official: The NHL is heading to Seattle. The league voted unanimously in favor of expansion at the league’s Board of Governors meeting in Georgia this week, officially green-lighting a 32nd franchise in Seattle that will begin play in 2021. 

This seemed like a no-brainer after Vegas joined the league and Seattle finalized plans to renovate KeyArena, and I’m very excited about the idea of a team in Seattle. It’s a great sports city (and a great city in general) and I have no doubts that the Seattle fans are going to back that team in a big way. I mean, all you have to do is look at how successful their season ticket drive was; they hit 10,000 deposits (the ownership group’s initial goal) in just 12 minutes and over 25,000 in the first day. 

It’s a market that deserves a team and one that will likely bring a built-in geographical rivalry with Vancouver, so that’s going to be fun. Probably not as fun as Vegas somehow managed to be in their inaugural season last year, but that’s almost an impossible bar to reach.

I’m on record as saying I believe the NHL should downsize to 30 rather than expand to 32 — I don’t love further thinning the league’s rosters and adding teams when there are existing franchises struggling to survive — but that was never going to happen. It’s hard to spin downsizing positively (just ask Matt Damon) and the NHL is trying to grow their market, not shrink it. Plus, owners aren’t typically in the business of turning down a lucrative cash grab. 

With that in mind, it’s hard not to see the Seattle expansion as a really good, exciting thing for the league … unless of course you’re one of those very bitter people in Quebec City.

What’s wrong: Michael Grabner‘s eye

I mean, just look at it.

That gnarly injury came as a result of the Coyotes forward being struck with an inadvertent high stick during a game against the Blues last week and it’s bad enough to keep Grabner sidelined indefinitely. That’s probably for the best honestly — nobody wants to have to look at that thing when they’re just trying to watch a hockey game. 

Hopefully he’s on his way to a full recovery. At the very least, the mustache still looks great.

In other gross injury content, Johnny Boychuk took it upon himself to be the Tooth Fairy during a game last week. 

Listen, I know Boychuk was a longtime teammate of David Krejci‘s in Boston and he seems like a guy who’s nice enough to pluck a rogue tooth off the ice and hand-deliver it to the bench, but just don’t, man. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy probably put it best after the game.

“I love Johnny. He’s a good guy. But that’s just weird.”

What’s right: Teddy Bear Toss SZN

Oh, hell yes. 

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the Teddy Bear Toss, it’s a popular practice among minor-league hockey teams, who ask fans to bring stuffed animals to a game (typically around the holiday season) and toss them on the ice following the home team’s first goal. Think hat trick, but instead of caps raining down from the stands, it’s an endless stream of stuffed animals. It’s an absolute dream.

This week, the Washington Capitals‘ AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, delivered the most successful Teddy Bear Toss of all time. OF ALL TIME. Their official haul came in at 34,798 toys, which smashes the team’s previous record of 25,017 collected in 2017. It also significantly tops the previous world record of 28,815, which was set by the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen in 2015.

Let’s get to the video, shall we?

I’ve probably seen dozens on dozens of these things over the years and they never seem to get any less cool. Not only is it a wonderful visual spectacle, it’s also for a great cause. All of those toys go to kids in need for the holiday season. What’s not to love here?

What’s wrong: Concussion protocol

This week provided another reminder that the NHL’s concussion protocol is still far from perfect. I’m not a doctor, but have a look at this collision between Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien and Pittsburgh’s Jamie Oleksiak and try to tell me that it’s not rather obvious that that Byfuglien was out on his feet.

Byfuglien is one of the biggest and most punishing dudes in the league, so when he gets up from a collision looking as wobbly as he did here, you know something went wrong. He could barely get back into the bench, and yet somehow he managed to pass a concussion test and return to action, finishing out the game. 

A day later, the Jets announced he had a concussion and would be out indefinitely. Not super shocking.

I know that sometimes the full effects of a concussion don’t pop up until hours after the head trauma occurs, and clearly Byfuglien had enough wits about him to pass the baseline test after the collision, so it’s hard to fully blame the medical staff. If he was given the required testing and was cleared to return, he’s obviously going to want to get back into the game. 

But for a league that continues to preach that they’re trying to make the game safer and limit the impact of head trauma, not to mention a league that is just weeks removed from settling in a multimillion concussion lawsuit, it’s kind of difficult to understand why they’re not erring on the side of caution, especially in cases that are as outwardly concerning as this one. 

If nothing else, this is a rather unsettling reminder that the system that’s currently in place still just doesn’t work sometimes. Whether you want to place the blame on the quality of the baseline test, the medical staff, the coaching staff, or the individual player for going back into the game after a rather obvious head injury, it’s clear that there are still going to be situations in which a player stays on the ice when he probably shouldn’t.

In this case, I guess we can just be thankful that no Byfuglien suffered no further damage and was successfully diagnosed the next day.

Flirting technique of the week

Tyler Seguin probably doesn’t need to get all that creative when it comes to gaining the attention of a nice lady (or gentleman, to be fair) but that doesn’t mean he won’t. That was proven this week when he playfully knocked over a girl’s beer prior to a game in Calgary, which is a rather hilariously mean (and costly) flirtation device. 

To be fair, this girl sort of had it coming considering A) you gotta know better than to put your beer on the dasher, even during warmups, and B) she was drinking beer through a straw. What a psychopath.

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