Slovakian goalie Denis ‘Godzilla’ Godla turned in a monstrous performance at the World Junior Championship and became a crowd favorite in the process. He was deserving of being named goalie for the tournament all-star team and for being chosen top goaltender. But what now?
It was awfully nice of the Toronto Maple Leafs to hold off on firing their coach until Tuesday, and your trusty correspondent means that in all sincerity. The Maple Leafs probably knew they wanted to fire Randy Carlyle on Monday, but held off the gong show and allowed the best teenagers in the world to have the stage all to themselves without turning it into a gong show. Good on them for doing that.
The day after the night before, here are some final thoughts that never made their way from the notebook:
* The race for No. 1 overall between Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel isn’t dead yet, but it might be on life support. That’s because McDavid went into the World Junior Championship as the No. 1 prospect and did nothing to relinquish it. Some scouts think McDavid’s improved play during the tournament created some separation between him and Eichel, others weren’t as convinced. Both players were outstanding at times and ordinary at others, which should be expected from players so young.
But it’s not as though just because McDavid scored 11 points and won a gold medal that he ran away with the No. 1 mantle. One scout who had McDavid No. 1 before and after the tournament put it this way: “The kid scored 11 points in the tournament, but nine of those points were against Germany, Denmark and Slovakia. Most of the kids on those teams couldn’t play major junior hockey.”
* Watching the tournament, you might be convinced that all 30 NHL teams were wrong in each of the past two drafts to allow Slovakia goalie Denis Godla and Denmark goalie Georg Sorensen slip through their fingers. And you’d probably be wrong.
God(zil)la is 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, while Sorensen is 5-foot-9 and 165. Not exactly the kinds of goalies who are dominating in the NHL these days. Watching God(zil)la and Sorensen remind me of two other European goalies, Igor Karpenko of Ukraine who was named the top goalie at the 1995 tournament and Jaroslav Janus of Slovakia, who was the tournament all-star in goal at the 2009 WJC in Ottawa. Haven’t heard of them, you say? Well, that’s the point.
Which does nothing to diminish their accomplishments in the tournament, which were monumental. Watching Godla wave to the Air Canada Centre crowd after winning the bronze medal with the fans chanting, “Goalie! Goalie! Goalie!” will be one of the lingering memories of the event.
* Hockey Canada will try to get it right next time the tournament is in Montreal and Toronto two years from now. I was told by a source that all three – Hockey Canada and tournament organizers in both cities – had opt out clauses for 2017, but all three have made the commitment already.
Hockey Canada has come under fire for attendance woes in Montreal in particular, where poor crowds will likely cause the tournament to make far less money than was first anticipated. Some were predicting profits of up to $25 million and the reality is it will likely come in at more like $17 million or $18 million. I’m told another Hockey Canada blunder was that it did not require a minimum profit guarantee from local organizers in Montreal and Toronto for the first time. Had it demanded a $20 million profit, it would have been assured of that amount, with the difference coming from the local organizers.
* Was speaking prior to the gold medal game with Kris Draper, who serves as a special assistant to Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland. I asked him whether undersized defenseman Joe Hicketts, who went undrafted before being signed by the Red Wings, reminds him at all of Brian Rafalski. “That’s the name we always throw around,” Draper said. “They both have a lot of skill and are really competitive.”
* You’d have to be pretty pleased with the way the WJC turned out if you’re Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, since you couldn’t swing a dead cat at the tournament without hitting a Jets prospect.
Starting with Canada, scoring star Nic Petan, defenseman and tournament all-star Josh Morrissey and goalie Eric Comrie are all Jets draft picks. Nikolaj Ehlers of Denmark, who would have been on my tournament all-star team, was picked ninth overall by the Jets in last June’s NHL draft. Rounding out the possible future Jets were center Chase De Leo of USA and defenseman Jan Kostalek of the Czech Republic.
* And as if the Leafs need more bad news on a day like today, someone very close to the Swedish junior team had this to say about Leafs prospect William Nylander: “The Leafs have got some work to do with this guy. He’s got huge talent, but he doesn’t work hard enough and he plays on the periphery too much.”