The NHL’s best and worst this week

After the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup last season, Robby Fabbri was a restricted free agent. Fabbri signed a one-year, prove-it deal with the Blues, but his agent told general manager Doug Armstrong: if Fabbri wasn’t going to be a regular in the lineup, the 23-year-old wanted a fresh start with a new team. Armstrong agreed, but asked Fabbri and his agent to be patient.

Fabbri, St. Louis’ 2014 first-round pick, was a scratch for eight of the team’s first 17 games. The Blues lost Vladimir Tarasenko for at least five months, and Fabbri still couldn’t crack the regular lineup. When he got in, he was averaging less than 10 minutes per game. So one month into the season, Fabbri and Armstrong met. This time, a trade felt imminent.

“It was tough, because I didn’t know when it was going to happen, or where I was going to go,” Fabbri said in a phone interview this week. “But I knew it was probably going it happen.”

On Wednesday night in Edmonton, Fabbri was sitting in the press box yet again, his fifth-straight game as a healthy scratch. That’s when Armstrong delivered the news. Fabbri was heading from the defending Stanley Cup champs to the Detroit Red Wings … the worst team in the league (the Red Wings had lost 12 of 13 games, and had been outscored 57-12 in that span).

“I was just really excited for the opportunity to prove myself,” Fabbri said.

The next day he was on a commercial flight to Detroit (via a connection in Toronto), and by Saturday, Fabbri was suiting up with his new team. What an impression he made.

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Fabbri scored two goals — both on the power play — as the Red Wings defeated one of the NHL’s best teams, the Boston Bruins, 4-2. Fabbri, named the game’s No. 1 star, matched his goal total from 32 games in 2018-19 in just one night. He seemed to already have chemistry on the first power-play unit alongside Tyler Bertuzzi (with whom he played in junior with the OHL Guelph Storm) and Dylan Larkin (whom he got to know during their 2014 draft season).

Fabbri added that something else made the game extra special for him: His parents and girlfriend were in the crowd.

As Fabbri made the trip from Edmonton and got settled in with his new team, his girlfriend began packing up the apartment in St. Louis, and she drove his two french bulldogs up to Detroit. Like many just-traded players, Fabbri has to sort out some logistics. He’s staying in a hotel right now, but the hotel doesn’t allow dogs. “So I obviously have to figure that out,” he said.

Fabbri knows goals (and wins) will be harder to come by in Detroit this season (though they got another W on Sunday against the Golden Knights). The Red Wings are in the middle of a rebuild, and new GM Steve Yzerman has been careful to assign a timeline on when he expects the team to start contending again. Entering the Boston game, the Red Wings had lost four straight games by at least four goals.

Yzerman clearly knew his team needed more talent. The Fabbri acquisition was Yzerman’s second low-risk, high-ceiling trade in as many weeks. The other — getting Brendan Perlini from Chicago — followed a nearly identical mold: Perlini was also a first-round pick from the 2014 draft who had yet to fully realize his NHL potential. When Perlini couldn’t crack the Blackhawks’ regular lineup, he, too, asked for a trade. Yzerman’s other trade in his tenure as Red Wings GM is snagging Adam Erne (a 2013 second-round pick) from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Erne, Perlini and Fabbri are all 23 or 24 — the same age as Detroit’s young core — and all become restricted free agents this coming summer, meaning there’s minimal commitment if things don’t work out.

Fabbri’s career with the Blues was initially promising. He scored 18 goals as a rookie in 2015-16 (with 15 more points in 20 playoff games) and 11 goals in 51 games in 2016-17. Since then, he has been sidetracked by two ACL surgeries to his left knee that cost him nearly three crucial years of development. Any injured player will say one of the worst parts of rehab is being isolated from teammates, and for Fabbri, the second one was especially unique because he chose to rehab at home in Toronto. “It definitely had benefits like being close to my family, but it was hard to be away from the guys,” he said.

Fabbri made it back for last season, in which he had a limited role and played in 10 games during the Blues’ Stanley Cup run. He got a ring and got to cherish the experience with teammates, but he was also ready for the next chapter, in which he could start to find some individual success as well. Asked what he’s most proud of in his career to this date, Fabbri said: “Honestly, just coming back to playing in the NHL after what I went through.”

Jump ahead:
Emptying the notebook | What we liked this week
Three stars of the week | Biggest games coming up

Emptying the notebook

The buzziest word in the NBA right now? Load management. On Sunday, I asked Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman if we’d ever see something similar in the NHL. “There’s a lot of logic to it,” Bowman said. “But culturally, I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen. I’ve talked to players before — usually more toward the end of the year, not so much the last couple years, but when we were clinching playoff spots early — and players just don’t want to do it. It’s just a part of the culture; they don’t ever want to miss a game. So even though it would be better for them, and better for the team … I don’t know if we’d get there. Things do change, and I think we’re seeing some of the traditions, like morning skates are being limited around the league. If you would have told me that five years ago, I would have said that’s never going to change. Goalies are not playing 65 to 70 games anymore. But when it comes to [load management], I think it probably would be better for the sport, but then you get the other side where there’s a lot of criticism, like how could you have this many players miss this many games? So I don’t think it’s going to hit hockey for at least a little bit.”

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The Blackhawks obviously haven’t had the start they wanted, five points out of a playoff spot entering Monday’s games. “I thought we would have had a better start than we’ve had,” Bowman said. “We need to get ourselves going.” The Blackhawks are turning to the kids (Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist) to help, and I’ll have more on that in a column later this week. One of the areas Bowman wants to see improved: the power play, which is ranked No. 24 in the league at 14.5 percent. “That set us back in the month of October,” Bowman said. “We were so good for a couple months last year, it was almost automatic. And then this year, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be automatic again, but it doesn’t always work the way it did. So we gave it a long time to work itself out, and finally we changed it up. We have two units now, and I like the way it’s looking. But if there’s one thing that’s been the disappointment, it’s probably been that, because all of those close games where we got one point or we got zero points, if we had a good power play, we’d probably have a much different record right now.”

A touchy word in Vancouver? Sophomore slump. Brock Boeser became upset earlier this season when he started to hear chatter about Elias Pettersson potentially taking a step back this season. Pettersson scored only three goals in his first 10 games (after scoring 10 goals in the same span as a rookie). The 20-year-old recorded 11 points in that span — with all of his eight assists being primary assists. “People are absurd if they say Petey is having a slump,” Boeser said. “I think in Vancouver they started to think that, I started to hear a little of it, which is insane to me. He’s doing so well. Yeah, he scored 10 goals in his first 10 games of his NHL career, but people out there just base stuff off of that. You can’t have those expectations. He’s going to score. And now that we have [J.T.] Miller on that line, he doesn’t need to score as much. He’s just setting us up. He’s having a tremendous year.”

Despite losing four straight games, the Canucks are sitting pretty in a playoff spot, and the play of Boeser and Pettersson are big reasons why (as is special teams, as they rank top 10 in the league in power plays and penalty kills). Defenseman Chris Tanev was particularly effusive about Pettersson: “Every night he’s out there he does something that surprises you and impress you at the same time. Every game he’ll do something — beat a D-man, toe-drag someone, make the goalie go into the corner and then score — he’s an incredible player, he’s super smart. He’s very creative, he’s always trying new things. Maybe that’s why he’s hasn’t hit [the sophomore slump], because you don’t really know what he’s going to do out there.”

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Last thing on the Canucks: When I talked to Boeser in Chicago, Vancouver had won nine of its first 15 games. The biggest change he saw from last season? “Our work ethic,” Boeser said. “We show up every night to the rink, and we’re ready to play each and every game. Last year we’d have games where we’d play that way, then we’d have some games where we’d show up and we wouldn’t play that way. So we weren’t as consistent. So far we have that consistency right now.” The Canucks have since lost four straight, including a 2-1 loss to New Jersey on Sunday. So it will be interesting to remember these comments and see how Vancouver responds.

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t found a consistent stride yet this season, but they also haven’t had a full lineup. Just when they got one $11 million man back this week (John Tavares), they lose another. Mitch Marner is expected to miss approximately four weeks with an ankle injury. Coach Mike Babcock tried to play a spin zone on Sunday, telling reporters in Chicago that absences can improve their team because “guys are playing a lot more, in a lot more situations than they would. … So guys get opportunity and when you make good on it, you earn confidence and you get to be a better player. So a good opportunity for us that way.” But the loss of Marner isn’t insignificant. The 22-year-old is second on the team in points (18) and first in assists (14). He plays on both the power play and penalty kill. “I thought our best line last year was Tavares, [Zach] Hyman and Marner. They haven’t played together this year,” Babcock said. “They’ll play together at some point.”

Three Stars of the Week

Hey, the Senators won three of four this week! Pageau had a whopping five goals in those games, including the overtime winner against the Kings on Thursday.

After starting the season on injured reserve, Rust is back — and producing like crazy. The 27-year-old had four goals in three games, including a monster performance against the Islanders in which he scored a third-period tally and the game-winner in overtime.

The rookie defenseman had six points in three games this week, including his first career two-goal game, against the Blue Jackets. They grow up so fast

What we liked this week

  • Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby does a lot for the community behind the scenes that we rarely see. This story did come to light, and I’m glad it did. Crosby learned about Madeline Malizio, an Army specialist and 28-year-old single mother. Malizio doesn’t own a car and rode the bus to school, work and to bring her 3-year-old son to daycare. So this week, Crosby gifted her the Honda Passport Elite he won for earning MVP at last year’s NHL All Star game:

  • Ryan Straschnitzki was one of 13 Humboldt Broncos players injured in the 2018 bus crash. The 20-year-old was paralyzed from the chest down. He received experimental spinal surgery in Thailand and, according to the CBC, it was a success as Straschnitzki “began moving his legs” while “nearly kicking his therapist and asking if he could hit the gym.” Best of luck with his recovery.

  • Not only is Andrei Svechnikov scoring the sickest goals in all of the hockey land, but he’s spreading the wealth. The 19-year-old was spotted at Hurricanes practice teaching his teammates some moves:

  • Remember last year how the Hurricanes took Don Cherry’s “Bunch of Jerks” comment and turned it into a rallying cry? And they also printed it on merchandise and sold a boatload of T-shirts? It seems like the Coyotes are onto something similar. Sportsnet columnist Mark Spector published a column in which he ripped the Coyotes for their “boring style of play.” “If boring worked, would Arizona be the NHL’s welfare state, drawing on the league’s revenue-sharing program since the day after they left Winnipeg?” Spector wrote. That drew the ire of Coyotes team president Ahron Cohen, who told the Arizona Republic: “We’re not going to get in the business of responding to every negative story or tweet, but with this you have a misinformed story from a Canadian journalist that doesn’t bother to look at all the positivity we’ve built in this Arizona community.” And the Yotes aren’t letting up. Check out their new Twitter bio, too: “This is where you come for boring hockey updates.”

  • Montreal Canadiens fans haven’t always been the biggest fans of Zdeno Chara (the 2011 hit on Max Pacioretty, which left the then-Canadiens forward with a severe concussion and fractured vertebrae is a big reason why). But that hit is not who Chara is. And so it was neat to see the Bell Centre crowd give Chara a standing ovation for playing in his 1,500th career game:

What we didn’t like this week

Editor’s note: This story was originally published Monday morning, prior to the news that Don Cherry had been fired.

Monday is Remembrance Day in Canada, which honors those in the armed forces who have passed away. And how did Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry choose to celebrate it? With a totally unprovoked rant that insulted immigrants because Cherry perceives ingratitude on their part.

“I live in Mississauga,” Cherry said during his regular Saturday segment. “Very few people wear the poppy. Downtown Toronto, forget it. Nobody wears the poppy. Now you go to the small cities. You people … that come here, whatever it is — you love our way of life. You love our milk and honey. At least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price for that.”

Sportsnet put out a statement denouncing Cherry’s comments and apologizing. Cherry’s co-host, Ron McLean, offered this when he was back on air Sunday evening: “Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat out wrong. … I owe you an apology, too. I sat there, did not catch it, did not respond.”

The NHL condemned Cherry in a written statement, which I must say surprised me. Hockey Canada put out something similar. Politicians across Canada chimed in, including Toronto Mayor John Tory, who called the comments “unfair and just plain wrong,” then suggested Cherry visit Old City Hall on Remembrance Day to “see thousands of Canadians of all ages, nationalities, faiths and backgrounds.”

Do you know who we haven’t heard from in all of this? The 85-year-old Cherry. I’m not here to pile on, but I do find it disappointing that these comments can be made with no consequence. Cherry has a platform, which is a privilege. He has used it to spew hatred and promote divisiveness. That’s not what this sport — and certainly not this world — needs right now.

Games of the week

What’s more shocking: that the Oilers have the best record in the Pacific Division or that the San Jose Sharks have the second-worst? A battle of early-season surprises.

Who doesn’t love a good revenge game? Let’s see how the fans at the Coliseum treat John Tavares this time around.

Both of these teams have been playing like Stanley Cup contenders. This one should provide some fireworks.

Quote of the week

“People talk a lot about last year, but I played for arguably the worst defensive team in the league for three years in Buffalo, so it’s nothing new.”

— The always blunt Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner, who has gone from playing behind the Islanders (one of the NHL’s stoutest defenses) to facing 50-plus shots in two of his 10 outings so far this season with Chicago.

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