Inside the NHL is a weekly collection of news, analysis and other insights on the NHL from hockey insider Chris Johnston.
To fully understand why Freddie Andersen is so excited about his fresh start you must first remember how much he loved playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. And how much more challenging last season was from the four that came before it.
Not only was he sidelined for two months by a painful knee issue that didn’t respond well to treatment, but the veteran goaltender was extremely restricted in what he could do away from the rink because of NHL protocols and local lockdowns.
That created what he calls a “negative spiral” in his general well-being.
“It wasn’t very fun. It was a difficult year, that’s for sure,” Andersen said over the weekend. “Both mentally with dealing with the injury and, as you know, the way of life in Canada wasn’t really what it’s supposed to be. The living experience wasn’t even close to what it is usually in Toronto.
“I think Toronto is an amazing city to live in and go out to dinner and stuff like that. Hanging out with your friends and teammates. I think that was really difficult, to not have that part outside the rink, and became a little bit tougher not being able to play and just sit at home and try to rehab and try to figure this injury out.”
Andersen sought out multiple medical opinions for a knee injury that he played through until it became too uncomfortable to properly push and stop on when moving around his crease. While the Amazon “All or Nothing” series framed that as a tense period between him and the organization, the 32-year-old Dane says he didn’t sense any friction with his former bosses.
All he felt was mounting frustration as the weeks bled by without progress. He only started one game after March 19 and watched the playoffs from the bench.
“I think everyone was trying their best and really working hard to come up with a solution and try to get me back playing,” said Andersen. “We were doing a lot of different things that weren’t really working. It was just a difficult injury that wasn’t straightforward. If you have, knock on wood, a broken bone or something you know exactly what you’ve got to do to heal it and that wasn’t really the case.”
It was only after going back to work with high-performance coach Scot Prohaska in California this summer where Andersen started to feel like himself again. That took up even more of his focus than free agency, where he signed a two-year, $9-million (U.S.) contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
He called that decision a “no-brainer” because of Carolina’s Stanley Cup aspirations and the opportunity they were offering him to get his career back on track.
Prohaska once worked with Dwayne Roloson, whose NHL career extended through age 42, and Andersen has ambitions of trying to do something similar. He points to the examples set by Roberto Luongo, Marc-André Fleury and Carey Price’s playoff performance last spring as other sources of motivation.
“That gives you the belief that it can be done,” he said.
Andersen is clearly in a much better place today.
He was given the start in the Hurricanes’ first two games and came away with victories in both. He’ll likely get a chance to face the Leafs when they visit PNC Arena next Monday.
And while he’s still establishing new routines with teammates and finding the best restaurants in Raleigh, he’s been able to pursue his other major passion by playing a couple rounds of golf in a region known for its spectacular courses.
“Obviously my last year in Toronto I would have imagined very differently, both with fans in the building and all that stuff,” said Andersen. “I’m just glad to be back and feeling good and having fun again. Having fun on the ice.”
Living the dream
Meet Alex Bishop, the University of Toronto commerce major who found himself sitting on the bench as the Leafs’ backup goalie on Saturday. The Richmond Hill native plays for the Varsity Blues and is in his final U Sports season. He signed an amateur tryout to help get the Leafs through a salary-cap crunch.
Bishop took a break from studying for an upcoming midterm on Sunday afternoon to chat about a night straight out of a storybook.
C.J.: Have you woken up from your dream yet?
Bishop: I think (Monday) I’ll feel like I’ve more woken up from a dream. Today I’ve been going through all the messages that I didn’t have a chance to respond to. It’s hard to process, honestly, like it’s not every day you get to suit up for your hometown team and the team I’ve been a lifelong fan for. It’s pretty remarkable. It’s crazy to me.
C.J.: How did you end up wearing No. 70?
Bishop: I have no idea. I showed up to the rink and that’s what was on all my stuff, so I just kind of went with it.
C.J.: Did you leave Scotiabank Arena with any souvenirs?
Bishop: They let me keep the jersey, keep the game puck and they gave me some shirts and stuff. It was nice of them, obviously they didn’t have to do that. So I’ll probably be getting that (jersey) framed. I might try to see if I can get a copy of that contract because that’s something cool to have as well. Before I left after morning skate, I just had to put my signature down (on an amateur tryout contract) and took a quick picture.
C.J.: What was the most memorable interaction you had with a player or staff member?
Bishop: There’s not one interaction. I think it’s just that all the rumours about Jack Campbell are true; he’s probably the nicest human in the entire world. Like he’s an NHL starting goalie who is trying to get ready for a game, but he goes out of the way to kind of talk to me and invites me to come play soccer and do all these little things. And then after the game he’s saying “Oh, I had such a good time.” I was like, “You had a good time?”
C.J.: Campbell came over to you and shared some words during warm-ups. What did he say?
Bishop: Yeah, I think he could tell I wasn’t sure when to hop in (the net). No one really talked to me about what the warm-up was going to be like. So he just kind of said “for the last drill I take four or five, and then you can hop in and there’s like 20 or 30 shots after.” I don’t know how he does it, because when I’m starting I’ve got my headphones in and I’m trying to tune in. He’s salt of the earth, honestly. He was super, super nice.
C.J.: What will you tell people was the best part of being a Maple Leaf for a day?
Bishop: The courtside seats. No, I think just being able for my parents to be there and my girlfriend in New Brunswick watching on TV with all her friends — they had a little get together. My (Varsity Blues) team played in Guelph, but they got back and I think 13 or 14 of them bought tickets on the bus and went right over to the rink. My coach was there, my goalie coach happened to be there. It was just having so many people there for me even though they knew I was likely just sitting on the bench the whole day. It was pretty special.
C.J.: What’s next? Do you hope to pursue a professional playing career after university?
Bishop: I’ll obviously leave the door open, but it’s not like I’m an NHL hopeful any more, you know what I mean? I’m 24 and I think my career is winding down, but I’ve come to peace with that.
C.J.: Does that make this experience even better?
Bishop: Yeah, 100 per cent. It comes more full circle.
It was in the Belleville Senators coaches’ office at CAA Arena where the Brady Tkachuk contract stalemate effectively ended last Tuesday.
With Senators management and Tkachuk’s Mississauga-based representatives from Newport Sports each driving to meet in the middle, they found the path toward a seven-year, $57.5-million deal during a three-hour session.
Discretion was required, so this wasn’t the kind of business meeting that could be conducted in a Tim Hortons or Boston Pizza. Belleville is a hockey town. Negotiations stretched over several months and included a couple other face-to-face sit-downs, but it was in the Senators AHL facility where the framework of a long-term contract which made Tkachuk the organization’s highest-paid player took shape.
You could feel the enthusiasm radiating from the front office once it was signed.
Tkachuk is immensely popular as both a person and player, and his standing with the Senators wasn’t hurt by a difficult negotiation. He took the trainers out to lunch in Toronto on Saturday afternoon as a thank you, and that gesture didn’t go unnoticed.
The 22-year-old winger starts the season wearing an A on his sweater, but it could be changed to a C before Christmas.
C.J.’s Top Five
After a weekend where your faithful correspondent celebrated a milestone birthday, here’s my ranking of the best NHL seasons by players aged 40 or older (hat tip to hockey-rerence.com for the great search tool):
1. Gordie Howe, 1968-69, age 40
A man with a spot on hockey’s Mount Rushmore finished third in league scoring. I had to triple-check his stat line for accuracy: 44 goals and 103 points in 76 games. Unreal and unmatched.
2. Teemu Selänne, 2010-11, age 40
This is the only qualifying season remotely close to Howe’s, and it still trailed by a fair margin. Not that Selänne’s 31 goals and 80 points were anything to scoff at. Most 25-year-olds would call it a career year.
3. Ray Bourque, 2000-01, age 40
The one full year Bourque played in Colorado culminated with his long-awaited Stanley Cup breakthrough. He averaged more than 26 minutes per night and put up 59 points, finishing second in Norris Trophy voting before walking into retirement a champion.
4. Jacques Plante, 1970-71, age 42
It might be a disservice to only have one goaltender represented on this list — Johnny Bower, Dominik Hasek and Gump Worsley all had great 40-plus performances — but Plante’s year was truly special. He finished fifth in Hart Trophy voting after posting a league-best .944 save percentage for the Leafs.
5. Nicklas Lidstrom, 2010-11, age 40
The final of seven Norris Trophy victories came after a 62-point campaign. Lidstrom played all 82 games for the Detroit Red Wings that season, too.
Word this week from inside the Jack Eichel trade discussions: “It’s going to take some time” … The long list of Olympic-eligible players submitted by Hockey Canada included 50 skaters and five goaltenders. You won’t see it published anywhere in its entirety, though … Alex Ovechkin has now scored more power-play goals than all but one player in NHL history — trailing Dave Andreychuk 274 to 270 … With Alex Tuch out until January following off-season shoulder surgery and Max Pacioretty now sidelined six weeks, the Vegas Golden Knights have cap room to bring in additional help using long-term injured reserve … Seeing how well Jason Spezza started this season, and played the last one, there’s nothing to suggest this is his last year as a NHLer … An executive who watched Patrik Laine closely in pre-season predicted that he’d return to 40-goal form this season. However, after seeing the fit Laine sported on opening night, I’m inclined to inflate the estimated total to 50.
Beyond the rink
A weekly thought on the sporting world at large: If you haven’t already jumped on the bandwagon for Canada’s campaign to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, what are you possibly waiting for??? This team is in the middle of authoring a massive sports story for our country and that Alphonso Davies goal was a where-were-you moment. (I was at Scotiabank Arena covering Leafs-Habs, but my phone blew up).
Any chance Jonathan Toews can crack the Olympic team?
Few expected Toews to make Team Canada as a 21-year-old at the Vancouver Games and I certainly won’t be betting against him now. The major unknown is how well he’ll bounce back after missing all of last season. Remember: Canada is 47-1-1 in games with Toews in the lineup. They’ll find a spot for him if he can give them a reason to by the end of December.
Who are your early picks for medals in 2022?
Canada gold, Finland silver, U.S.A. bronze … although I’m a little uneasy about Team U.S.A.’s centre depth beyond Auston Matthews.
Hey CJ! Will Spencer Knight be the #1 goalie in Florida this year?
I’ll place the odds on that at something less than 50/50. The Spencer Knight hype train is completely justified, but history does not include many goaltenders who became the No. 1 on a good team at age 20. The size of his partner’s paycheque — Sergei Bobrovsky is making $12 million this season! — also incentivizes the Panthers not to rush along any big changes at the position.
Favourite arena to watch a game?
Going to the Bell Centre on a Saturday night is the closest I’ll ever get to a religious experience. The steeply banked seating in the lower bowl, the theatre lighting and the ceremonial feel of the pre-game buildup are all unique to that building. You can’t go wrong with Montreal. I can’t wait to get back there for a game.
Does pineapple go on pizza?
This is a highly personal question. And yes, yes it does.
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