After practice on Wednesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Alex Galchenyuk joining a line with John Tavares and William Nylander, losing Jimmy Vesey to a waiver claim by the Canucks, the injury status of Jack Campbell and Wayne Simmonds, and Kyle Dubas’ commitment to adding to the group via trade before the deadline.
Practice Lines – March 17
Correction: Engvall at centre on 4th line
Leafs D/G at practice
Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Holl
Dermott – Bogosian
Marincin – Liljegren
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) March 17, 2021
A lot of changes on forward today. You lost Jimmy Vesey. Alex Galchenyuk and Wayne Simmonds are back with the group. Can you talk about the changes that are in store for your forward units?
Keefe: We will see how things move along here as we get through the rest of today and tomorrow. We are still waiting on Wayne and his status. Today’s practice and having him involved is an important part of his recovery and getting him back ready to play. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he is going to in fact play this weekend. We will just see how he continues to progress.
In terms of Galchenyuk, it is similar. We wanted to bring him here and have him involved and utilize the fact that we have a rare opportunity to get some practice time in here today and tomorrow to have him around with our group. We haven’t made any determinations as to what we will end up doing as we get into the game. We don’t have all of the information quite yet.
What are the Canucks getting in Jimmy Vesey, and what are you going to miss?
Keefe: First of all, putting him on waivers is a difficult decision. Kyle, ultimately, made the decision there. Really, the reason for it is the flexibility within the roster. When you have players that are not eligible to be moved onto the taxi squad at any point in time, it creates some challenges. You can’t even really change the lineup.
There is a bit of a misconception that because you have the taxi squad guys, you can move players in and out all of the time, but you just can’t, especially with the salary cap and things like that. Your lineup is pretty much set. You need to create some flexibility, and to do that, you have to expose some players.
We think Jimmy brings a lot of value to a team. He did good things for us. He has a good skill set. He is a versatile guy who can play up and down the lineup. It didn’t work out for him here in the way that we thought it might with the opportunity we gave him early.
He has a lot of things that he brings to a team. He has done a lot of good things for us. We would’ve liked to have kept him for sure, but the system is what it is. It gives players these opportunities to move to a team that might have a different chance for him.
What potential do you see for Galchenyuk with those two — Nylander and Tavares — if you have him in this weekend?
Keefe: Rather than speaking to who he may play with or if he will play, it is more in terms of — with him and his skill set, we think he is a guy that can produce offense if he gets an opportunity to score. He can do that. He can also make plays.
Both in what I have observed and in watching some of his recent video — not just with the Marlies but with Ottawa, and now getting the feedback as we have gotten to know him more as a person with the Marlies in his time to rebuild himself, if you will — he has been terrific. He has worked hard. He has been very humble, for a guy who has never played in the American Hockey League, to go down and work the way that he has.
The staff down there, whether it is Greg Moore or all of the staff that has been working with the Marlies, can’t say enough good things about how he has handled himself, put in the work, and how he has been engaged with all of the players down there, helping that group get up and running.
We are thrilled to have him and thrilled with how he has conducted himself to date. The organization has put a lot of time and effort into him. He has received it very well. As much as you might think that is the way it should be, unfortunately, it is not the way it always is. It is a credit to how motivated he is to get this right.
Through that, it is very encouraging for us. It makes you want to give him the opportunity. Whether it is now or down the line, we certainly think he will get a chance.
Is the expectation that Jack Campbell might be able to go on Saturday?
Keefe: It is looking that way. We have been waiting on Campbell here for quite some time. It has been a day-to-day thing. He skated yesterday as well. Those have been his best days for sure. That has been very encouraging.
We are trending in that direction of him being available on the weekend, but again, we won’t know until we get through today, another day tomorrow, and how he responds and deals with that. But it has been very positive.
Did he have a setback at some time or has he been day-to-day for so long because it hasn’t healed?
Keefe: It is just a re-aggravation of the injury that he missed a great deal of time from. He came back in Edmonton there and re-aggravated it. It has been one of those things where they thought a few days might do the trick to kind of get him back, but it has just lingered.
I wouldn’t describe it as a setback necessarily, but more as a nagging thing that hasn’t had him feeling the way we need him to feel. He has been good enough to be able to skate and do different things to stay sharp, but in terms of being ready to play games, it has been kind of lingering.
That has been why we have been non-committal and unsure virtually every day. We have just been kind of waiting for that to settle a bit. It seems like it has, but he has some days to get through here as well.
Big picture, how do you think these couple of days to reset will help the team? What are your focus points for today?
Keefe: I certainly hope they are going to do a great deal to reset the group. There are a couple of phases to this little break here. We just went through two off days, which we thought were important in terms of getting the rest, both mental and physical.
Today, it is about coming back and really just getting back up and running again and not knocking the dust off that inevitably affects you after two days. Your timing and your passing and execution suffer a little bit when you take that rest. Today was the go-between between rest and what will be a full-blast, highly-competitive day tomorrow to get ourselves ready to play.
The expectation is that, whatever it might’ve been that caused us to dip a little bit here — whether it is fatigue, execution, habits, mental mistakes — between the practice time and the rest, our expectation is that those things should be fixed and we should be back to playing at our best. That is what our expectation is.
In his midseason availability yesterday, Kyle Dubas said he liked a lot about the team in the first half and is looking to add. In your experience, when the GM comes out and says that, does it resonate in the room?
Keefe: I think it resonates. At the same time, Kyle is around enough and talks to players and me enough that it is not a surprise about how he feels about the group or anything like that. I think the group knows what his impressions and intentions are.
He believes in the group. He knows what we are capable of. He believes we will find our way out of this. I think we have earned that through the good times that we have had this season. We are going through a little bit of adversity here now. We are fortunate that it has landed at this point in the schedule like it has. It gives us reasons to get back to work and reset ourselves here.
Kyle is a very even-keeled guy. He has confidence in the group. He will do what he needs to do in order to enhance our group.
It is a challenging environment in which to make trades this season. What stands out to you the most about Kyle’s ability to be creative, stay ahead of the curve, and think outside of the box?
Keefe: I think he himself is all of those things you just mentioned: creative, progressive. At the same time, he has a great staff of people around him, whether it is the R&D staff or his support with management with Brandon Pridham and Laurence Gilman and, of course, Brendan Shanahan. Those guys, and how they work together with the scouting staff, kind of have everything covered in that sense.
They’ve had a lot of time to prepare as they always do. Myself, as a coach, I will just continue to do my thing here to get our group ready and be at our best with the players that we have. Everything else will take care of itself.