Five Thoughts: Claude Julien’s non-timeout, Purcell’s awakening, and Steve Downie’s head

Game 4 between Boston and Tampa Bay brought back a lot of things we thought we’d forgotten about the Bruins and Lightning both. We’d forgotten how scrappy and tenacious Tampa Bay can be when they’ve got the motivation to keep working harder. After Game 3, it was easy to forget about that. As for Boston, too many similarities to last season’s playoff run came roaring back.

1. Tampa Bay’s tremendous comeback reminds us that we should know better when it comes to how they play the game. All playoffs long they’ve been the team that just hangs around and gets back into games by whittling away a lead or always sticking close and not allowing their opponents to get comfortable.

Game 4 made us start to believe that perhaps the Lightning were done. After all they were coming off a Game 3 performance that was less-than inspiring and the Bruins blitzed them for a 3-0 lead after the first period. Whatever amount of talking and soul searching that went on in the locker room between periods paid off because they turned play around as if they flipped a switch. They dominated possession of the puck, they kept the Bruins bottled up in their own end and they weren’t afraid to shoot the puck and attack the Bruins defense. Amazing what happens when you maximize your effort, isn’t it?

Making things tougher for Boston is seeing relatively unknown guys like Teddy Purcell and Sean Bergenheim doing the heavy lifting to tie things up before the big name guys took over to win it. That performance by Tampa is more like the Lightning we’ve seen all playoffs.

2. Of course, how things broke down for Boston makes us curious once again about some of coach Claude Julien’s decisions behind the bench. In this case, it was Julien’s choice to not call a timeout after Teddy Purcell scored twice in 1:03 to cut the Bruins lead to 3-2 in the second period. Julien not calling a timeout to slow things down for a second and let his team regain some of its composure after having the game seemingly on lockdown after the first period is a head scratcher. It seemed to be the right place to call the timeout and the Bruins certainly looked shell-shocked after Purcell both made their defense and goalie Tim Thomas look bad with his two efforts to score.

Instead, the Bruins kept trying to forge ahead stubbornly figuring they could just get back to it and lock things down. Then Sean Bergenheim outmuscles Tomas Kaberle for a puck behind the Bruins net and fights his way around the net to slip a shot past Thomas and tie the game. Would a timeout have prevented Kaberle from going soft there? Tough to say but at the very least, you’d hope everyone would’ve come out of the timeout more attentive and ready to battle rather than soaking in their own misery after blowing a big lead.

3. Don’t look now but Tampa Bay’s Teddy Purcell is a legitimate man of interest for the Bruins to worry about. After his two goals in Game 3, Purcell has 15 points in the playoffs with four goals and 11 assists. That puts Purcell third on the team in scoring behind Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis and tied for fifth in the playoffs overall equaling him with the likes of Henrik Sedin, Dan Boyle, and Pavel Datsyuk.

Purcell is a former L.A. Kings prospect who came to Tampa last season in a deal that saw the Lightning also get the Kings’ draft pick where they selected Brock Beukeboom. The Kings got Jeff Halpern in that trade and he left L.A. after the season was over to sign in Montreal. While the deal didn’t stand out at the time, Purcell is showing the talent he had yet to show off at the pro level. He didn’t get much of a shot with the Kings and if Purcell can have this playoff performance help him evolve into a top playmaker from now on, Kings fans will be ruing that deal for years to come. One great playoff performance doesn’t always translate into a great NHL career, but Purcell is carving out a name for himself nicely.

4. We’re hoping that referee Tim Peel feels a bit embarrassed after his inexcusable call of giving Steve Downie a diving penalty after he was crunched into the end boards by Nathan Horton late in the second period. Downie was cross checked in the back and had the top of his head smashed into the glass putting him down on the ice. Watching the play in slow motion looks really bad, but it doesn’t look any better at full speed.

We know that Downie has a poor reputation around the league but sometimes when you seem something as bad as that you have to take it for what it’s worth. It was a very poor decision by Horton that turned into a terrible end result for Downie as he left the game and did not return after that hit. Now his status for Game 5 is in doubt and perhaps even longer than that now. After all the attention on blows to the head this year you’d think they’d err on the side of caution here. Apparently that’s asking too much.

5. If you’re thinking there’s a debate as to who Tampa Bay will start in goal for Game 5, you’re nuts. We know Dwayne Roloson struggled in Game 4 before getting pulled after giving up three goals on nine shots and he’s had a rough go of things in a couple games in this series, but he’s their man. Maybe he could use a breather but that’s no reason to upset the situation in Tampa by creating a goalie controversy.

The Lightning should be happy that Mike Smith has done his part when called upon to stop the bleeding and call it a day after that. Roloson’s the guy that brought them and unless there’s a bigger issue we’re not aware of (read: injury) there’s no reason to throw Mike Smith into the starting role for Game 5.

Necas rewarding Hurricanes’ patience

Carolina Hurricanes forward Martin Necas
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Highly touted prospects are consistently called on to produce shortly after their draft year, sometimes hindering their growth as players.

Whether the club is competing for the Stanley Cup, looking to become a contender or facing a salary cap dilemma, young players on entry-level contracts have become a staple in the NHL.

For the Carolina Hurricanes, the patience they showed during Martin Necas’ development process has proven to be beneficial.

Necas has recorded 13 points through 19 games, including an assist on Dougie Hamilton’s game-winning goal Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. The 20-year-old forward darted into the offensive zone and could not complete a breakaway opportunity midway through overtime. However, instead of losing his composure, Necas stayed with the play, retrieved the puck and set up Hamilton to help Carolina secure a 5-4 victory.

Carolina selected Necas with the 12th pick in the first round of the 2017 NHL draft. Necas played one game in the NHL that season before returning to the Czech Republic. Last year, Necas had a seven-game stint with the Hurricanes, but the organization felt he needed more fine-tuning in the American Hockey League, where he helped the Charlotte Checkers capture the Calder Cup.

The pressure surrounding a first-round pick is omnipresent during the development process and only heightens when the prospect needs additional time outside the NHL. The situation is even more magnified when the big club is contending for a championship and contemplating a major trade deadline acquisition or a promotion from within.

But Carolina’s front office resisted the urge to disrupt Necas’ development and is reaping the rewards from that tough decision this season.

If Necas continues to produce, he will be in contention for a different Calder Trophy this season. While an individual award is an accomplishment, Carolina is hoping its patience will be rewarded as the team looks to build on its Eastern Conference Finals appearance last season.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Maple Leafs GM gives interesting take on ‘polarizing’ players

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are mired in a three-game losing streak, and generally speaking, have seemed a bit underwhelming so far in starting 2019-20 with a 9-7-4 record (22 points, currently in second wild card).

Through 20 games, you’ll see players talk about getting “swagger” back, and you probably won’t be able to scroll Hockey Twitter without stumbling upon at least a few debates about the job Mike Babcock is doing.

With as passionate a fan base as the Maple Leafs have, you’ll see people really drilling down to parse even the depth aspects of the team. Maybe that explains why we got an interesting take from GM Kyle Dubas, who almost seemed to break “the fourth wall” when he acknowledged the many takes that defensemen Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie inspire.

Buffet of opinions

Dubas’ comments about Ceci are especially fascinating, as you can see from TSN’s Karen Shilton.

“Cody is an interesting one. I think it goes back to the war between data and subjective scouting [in that] he seems to be a very polarizing player,” Dubas said. “Even when everything underlying about him has been relatively solid, especially when you consider his usage [as a top-pairing defenceman who averages 22:19 of ice time per game], it seems to be every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum on whether he’s good or not, which is mind-boggling to me. Every defenceman that plays that much and plays in that role is going to [make] mistakes. I think he’s been a good addition for us and has played above expectations from when we acquired him and we’re very happy with him.”

In particular, Dubas captures the tenure of some Hockey Twitter debates when he says “it seems like every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum.”

But it’s not that hard to see where many of Ceci’s critics are coming from.

When the Maple Leafs acquired Ceci, and it became clear that he’d actually stick around for at least a while, the hope (for many) was that he wouldn’t have the same role as he did in Ottawa, where some believe the Senators promoted him to a level of incompetence. What if Ceci was in an easier role, with fewer minutes and lesser opponents? Instead, his ice time has been virtually unchanged from last season, and defensive measures like his Hockey Viz heat maps (via Micah Blake McCurdy) look as bad as ever:

But, truly, Dubas isn’t totally off base when he says that there are certain underlying numbers where Ceci comes across at least a bit more respectably.

There’s the argument, advanced by people like Jonas Siegel of The Athletic (sub required), that it’s too early to judge Ceci.

Maybe it’s too late; perhaps there’s an “eye test vs. analytics” divide that won’t be broken easily. It could be that the biggest uproar would come if the Maple Leafs brought back Ceci after his expiring deal melts away.

(Opinion: they absolutely should not bring Ceci back.)

Tyson not knocking it out of the park

In the grand scheme of things, the Ceci situation is basically going as prescribed.

The bigger disappointment might be Tyson Barrie, even if you ignore Nazem Kadri‘s promising early results in Colorado. The book on Barrie is that he can be an explosive offensive performer, although there were red flags about him negating much of that prowess with shaky defense.

Those red flags carry over to those Hockey Viz charts, as there’s a lot of the bad sort of red when you consider Barrie’s defensive impact (and arguably not enough of the good red on offense to justify that bleeding).

Keeping it as simple as it gets, Barrie barely has more points (zero goals, five assists, thus five points) than Ceci (one goal, three assists for four points). Those numbers are underwhelming even if you viewed Barrie as something of a paper tiger with superficial scoring stats coming in.

Maybe it’s telling that Dubas’ comments are more milquetoast about Barrie, stating that “we just want him to continue to work and get comfortable here.”

***

Barrie, Ceci, and the Maple Leafs face a familiar foe on Friday in the Boston Bruins. In the Bruins’ own way, they want to get back on track too, as they’ve lost four in a row.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flames’ Brodie hospitalized after suffering seizure during practice

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In what sounds like a scary scene from Calgary Flames practice on Thursday, defenseman T.J. Brodie fell to the ice and appeared to experience a seizure, according to multiple reporters on hand.

Brodie, 29, was hospitalized afterward, but the good news is that Flames GM Brad Treliving described Brodie as “alert and responsive.”

Treliving didn’t officially announce that Brodie had a seizure, instead referring to it as an “episode.”

The Flames postponed practice after Brodie was taken off the ice on a stretcher. Their next game is on Saturday, when they face the Arizona Coyotes on the road.

UPDATE: The Flames announced in an update that Brodie has been discharged and is doing well in recovery at home with his family.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders place Andrew Ladd on waivers

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New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello announced that the team put forward Andrew Ladd on waivers on Thursday, and from the sound of things, it’s unclear if we’ll see Ladd in the NHL again.

That said, Ladd’s $5.5 million AAV doesn’t expire until after 2022-23(!) so it’s possible that this saga may not be over.

For now, the Islanders are putting Ladd on waivers with the plan of assigning him to the AHL. Ladd had been on a conditioning stint while on LTIR as he tries to recover from a torn ACL suffered in March, and Lamoriello said that the Islanders hadn’t seen enough from that conditioning stint to have him resume playing. Setting such a standard would always make sense, really, but especially so with the Islanders humming along with an impressive 13-3-1 record so far in 2019-20.

Ladd’s longer-term future is fuzzy, and Lamoriello didn’t want to speculate about his chances (or lack thereof?) to play in the NHL again.

Newsday’s Andrew Gross clarifies that Ladd won’t need to be taken off LTIR to make this happen, which is relevant considering the whole $5.5M thing.

Ladd’s signing ranks as one of the many cursed 2016 free agent contracts, joined by Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo (the player he essentially replaced for the Islanders), David Backes, Loui Eriksson and more.

To be fair, Ladd had some utility if you looked beyond disappointing numbers for the money at times with the Islanders, but again, it’s hard to get too thrilled about such positives when the price tag was so steep. Still, he had some aptitude, particularly defensively, during his first two seasons for the Islanders, as illustrated by this Hockey Viz heat map:

Looking at Ladd’s contract structure at Cap Friendly, there’s the remote chance that the Islanders might be able to move that $5.5M cap hit (LTIR-bound or not) as the deal goes along. Ladd’s actual salary slips to $4M from 2020-21 through 2022-23, and it’s split up by a $3M signing bonus and $1M base salary each year. Maybe a team hoping to hit the cap floor might be willing to eat that cap hit to inflate their numbers for assets after the signing bonus is already paid, even if that would most realistically be able to happen heading into 2022-23? Perhaps the Islanders could bribe the Seattle expansion franchise to eat that deal, much like Vegas ended up doing with David Clarkson‘s contract?

Ultimately, those details are mostly the concerns of whoever is handling the Islanders’ cap situation in the future, and perhaps other teams hoping to squeeze every ounce of value out of an offseason.

Unfortunately, whether Ladd ever plays for the Islanders (or any other NHL team) again, it’s clear that the Islanders didn’t get much value from signing the former Winnipeg Jets captain.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.