Opinion | 13 Musings: Missing that other World Cup, dodging Jack Campbell and the best Erik Karlsson trade fit

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Morgan Rielly drew Canada in the Maple Leafs’ World Cup soccer pool, giving him more than just a patriotic interest in the outcome.

But it looks like Alphonso Davies won’t get a chance to draft Canada — or any other country — in a World Cup hockey pool.

Men’s hockey has gone six years without a best-on-best tournament, longer if you don’t count the 2016 World Cup which featured a pan-European team and under-23 North Americans. The 2014 Olympics in Russia marked was the last time the best represented their countries. The NHL skipped 2018 and 2022, and recently announced a delay in the return of the World Cup, which was supposed to be in 2024. Now it’s maybe 2025.

Too bad. The reason is most likely that the NHL wants to have Russian players somehow involved, but doesn’t want the bad press that would go along with having a pariah nation included.

I’d be OK having the tournament without Russia. Kind of starving at this point to see what Connor McDavid with the best Canadians and Auston Matthews with the best Americans could do. If that means no Alex Ovechkin, so be it. Other sports have it figured out. You just carry on.

One presumes the NHL will be back at the 2026 Olympics in Milan. McDavid will be in his 11th season, Matthews his 10th. Will McDavid ever get a chance to play with Sidney Crosby? Will Matthews get to play with Patrick Kane?

It’s a total shame that an entire generation of fans and players has been robbed of seeing best-on-best.

As always if you have a question, email me at askkevinmcgran@gmail.com and I’ll answer it in the next Mailbag. Now to the weekly 13 Musings.

1. MLSE-owned teams that have won championships since 2017: TFC, Marlies, Raptors, Argonauts.

2. MLSE-owned teams that have not: Maple Leafs. Just saying.

3. Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said recently he’s happy that his team has already gone through some adversity, be it injuries or that wonky start to the season. He says it makes players stronger. “It’s good to see that because you want to know if your team will be able to handle it, and how do they handle it? We’ll have more of it. But for us, when it does happen, it’s: Are we able to find our way through it and come out the other side?”

4. It’s quite common to look at the players who got away and blame the GM for letting the likes of Ilya Mikheyev and Zach Hyman walk as free agents. But it does look as if Dubas dodged a bullet on Jack Campbell.

5. Going back further, have a look at Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen. Johnsson’s in the minors and Kapanen is a frequent scratch, both at over $3 million (U.S.) a year on deals they signed in Toronto.

6. Consider the weird case of forward Filip Hållander: from Pittsburgh to Toronto in the 2020 Kapanen deal, then traded back to the Penguins in 2021 for expansion draft fodder Jared McCann. “It sounds crazy,” says Hållander, “but at the same time I was in Sweden all year. I got traded in the late summer and then traded back late summer. So, I was just in Sweden. I never came over, so it was pretty easy for me even though it sounds a bit weird.”

7. If there’s a trade to be made for Erik Karlsson, the Florida Panthers would be the most likely trading partner. The Panthers are going with Spencer Knight in net, while Sergei Bobrovsky has a $10-million cap hit until 2025-26. Karlsson’s cap hit is higher ($11.5 million) and goes two years longer. The rebuilding Sharks would get the easier contract; the contending Panthers would get a player they need.

8. Jason Spezza says his life hasn’t changed since he switched from the locker room to the front office. “I’d say my schedule stayed about the same,” says the retired Leaf. “I train every morning to stay active. And I’m at the rink every day and I’m working, and I get home by the same time. I’ve kind of kept a pretty similar schedule. So I haven’t been home more. I’ve travelled with the team the whole time. And so, it’s been good.”

9. In many ways, Mark Giordano is the new Spezza, the team’s oldest player and always someone with a good quote. He scored his 13th career short-handed goal last week, tying Chris Chelios for the fifth-most by a defenceman in NHL history. The only blueliners with more: Mark Howe (28), Paul Coffey (20), Ray Bourque (16) and Bobby Orr (16). “Those are pretty big names you mentioned there,” he said. “A lot of teams are using forwards on the power play, and you can catch guys either being out there too long or not playing defence. They’re not used to being back there. So you can sometimes get up in the play and make things happen. So I try to do that when I can.”

10. A small scrum around Morgan Rielly recently brought up the woeful 2014-15 season when Peter Horachek came in as the Leafs’ interim coach. A question began: “There was a long stretch when you went without a win …” Rielly interrupted and deadpanned: “You don’t say.”

11. The question was in reference to a jacket the Leafs handed out to the “player of the game” after wins (there weren’t many) that season. Rielly was asked whatever happened to that award: “Probably burned it.” They went 9-28-5 under Horachek.

12. After seeing Auston Matthews with the Hart Trophy last year basically based on a 60-goal season, Connor McDavid seems obsessed with goal scoring. Can’t blame him.

13. Next year, when Connor Bedard joins the NHL, I might try to do Connor Power Rankings. For now it’d be: McDavid, Kyle Connor, Conor Sheary, Connor Ingram, Conor Garland, Connor Clifton, Logan O’Connor and Connor Dewar, with Connor Brown on the injured list.

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