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Friday Four: When will the ‘floodgates’ open for Michael Bunting?

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The Friday Four, a collection of thoughts and information on some intriguing player performances, continues this week with some notes on:

• How Michael Bunting is replacing Zach Hyman on Toronto’s top line and if more offence can be expected from him.

Sean Monahan‘s demotion to Calgary’s fourth line, how and why that happened, and what to expect now that he’s back in the top-six again.

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Jordan Kyrou breakout season from St. Louis’ bottom six?

• And Troy Terry is taking the league by storm with what is now a 13-game point streak. Can he keep up some level of that production and lead a Ducks resurgence, or will last year’s worst offence regress in a big way?

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MICHAEL BUNTING, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

As Zach Hyman is enjoying a very quick eight-goal start in Edmonton, his replacement on the left flank of Toronto’s top line is settling in nicely as an early fan favourite.

Michael Bunting (three) just doesn’t have the same goal totals as Hyman, who sits among the league leaders. But there’s reason to believe they will start coming.

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“Right now I feel like I am getting my looks at the net, I’ve had quite a few Grade A chances and they’re just not going in for me,” Bunting said this week. “I feel like if I wasn’t getting those Grade A chances then I’d be a little worried about my game, but it’s only a matter of time when that goes in and the floodgates will open for me.”

Bunting has indeed been getting his opportunities. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Leafs rookie (chuckle) leads the league in individual expected goals at 5-on-5 — a stat that considers the types of shots a player gets and how often those turn into goals on average. He’s seventh in the league with 38 individual scoring chances (linemates Matthews and Nylander are first and second) and fifth with 19 high-danger opportunities. Compared to Hyman in Edmonton, Bunting is stacking up pretty good (league rank in parenthesis).


All stats 5-on-5 and from Natural Stat Trick.

But where Hyman has outpaced his expected 5-on-5 goals with four actual tallies, Bunting is coming in under and has scored just twice in this situation so far.

Unsurprisingly, Bunting’s scoring chances weren’t as strong in Arizona last season, but what made him stand out as a possible bargain breakout for the Leafs was his actual goal rates. Bunting played only 21 NHL games in 2020-21 and managed 10 goals. The type of chances he was getting didn’t rank highly in the league on a per-minute basis, but Bunting was among the better Coyotes in individual high danger chances and individual expected goal rates. He was a big fish in a small pond, within an even smaller sample.

What really mattered was how often he was actually putting the puck in the net. With the Coyotes, Bunting ranked eighth in the NHL when it came to goals scored per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play last season with a 23.33 shooting percentage. So far this year he ranks 217th in goals per 60 minutes with a 7.41 shooting percentage despite the fact the quality of his looks has improved dramatically.

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The improved quality of his shots isn’t at all surprising given the minutes he plays and the linemates he has in Auston Matthews and William Nylander. But, unlike last season, not a lot of them are going in yet. Bunting has been playing well and as long as he’s holding up his end of the bargain and Nick Ritchie struggles, there’s no real threat to take Bunting off the top line. Keep at it, and it stands to reason more goals will start coming his way and, yes, those “flood gates” could open.

SEAN MONAHAN, CALGARY FLAMES

The former first-line partner of Johnny Gaudreau’s in Calgary, Sean Monahan was an 82-point player just three years ago, but found himself in a fourth-line checking role this season as Darryl Sutter shook up the combos to find early success.

To be sure, injuries have probably played a factor here. Monahan revealed that he was injured in the sixth game of last season, which eventually led to off-season hip surgery. That explains his limited production in the abbreviated schedule. The extensive rehab from that surgery also explains why Monahan was eased into pre-season action, and maybe why he started this year off slow as well and demoted to the fourth line in the early-going — though his place on the top power-play unit has not changed.

“We all know Sean has come through a surgery at the end of the year last year, rehabbed it all summer and is really doing well,” Flames GM Brad Treliving told The FAN 960 this week. “But those do take time to get up to speed. One of the things Darryl talked about is looking at the depth, he’s really trying to spread things around. As (Monahan) gets up to speed, we’ve talked about trying to get a little more pace, quickness in the middle. Talked about putting Dube in the middle and moving Sean to where he’s moved him.”

[radioclip id=5235083]

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To his credit, Monahan accepted a demotion that required winger Dillon Dube to be Monahan’s replacement as the second line pivot. More speed, mobility and offensive upside. The fact the Flames went on a winning streak after making those lineup adjustments confirmed it was the right thing to do at the time.

But that winning streak ended when the calendar flipped to November, and the Flames started the month with a 1-1-2 record in all home games. The Flames got through their first road trip of the season with five wins in five games, but embarked on their current seven-game, 11-day roadie in the midst of a lull. Time to try and nip that in the bud, shake up the lines again, and find renewed energy.

So, on Thursday night in Montreal, Monahan found himself back in the top six, centring Blake Coleman and Andrew Mangiapane on the second line. The Flames dropped another decision, 4-2 to the struggling Habs, which will up the urgency a bit to get out of the spiral with stops in Toronto, Ottawa, Philadelphia and Buffalo up over the next week. But, at least, Monahan and his new linemates found some instant chemistry and success.

That was Calgary’s best line against Montreal, controlling 66 per cent of the 5-on-5 shots and 87 per cent of the scoring chances. Monahan picked up a primary assist, his first of the season at 5-on-5, on a cross-ice rush pass that Team Canada hopeful Andrew Mangiapane converted on.

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“You go about those things two ways,” Treliving said of how Monahan dealt with his slide down the lineup. “You go in there kicking and screaming and sucking your thumb, or you go in there knowing what the coach is trying to do for the betterment of the group. This isn’t certainly anything that’s a penalty for Sean.”

Whether or not Monahan returns to a level of play that matches his $6.375-million cap hit, it’s valuable in another sense for the Flames to have such a centre they can move throughout the lineup to create depth or matchup issues for opponents along the way, and have that leader and established veteran accept the assignment, no questions asked. But it’s also reasonable to wonder if Monahan has more to give this season as his spot in the lineup and injury recovery continue to settle.

“I want to get Sean going a little bit and move some other guys around and see if we can get just get a little more offence out of it,” Sutter said.

JORDAN KYROU, ST. LOUIS BLUES

As we creep towards the one quarter mark of this season, 23 NHL players have registered at least 14 points so far and 19 of them are scoring at better than a point-per-game pace. A lot of those names will be instantly recognizable to any NHL fan. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of course (they’re actually averaging two points per game). Kyle Connor, Brad Marchand, and Anze Kopitar, Aleksander Barkov are on that list too.

Jordan Kyrou is among these 19 players and the 2016 second-round pick by St. Louis doesn’t have the same name draw as a lot of the others. And actually, he doesn’t get nearly the same ice time as any of those players either. Kyrou is a third liner in St. Louis and of all the names on this list of 19 players, he’s the only one averaging less than 16 minutes a game (15:42). So Kyrou qualifies as a bit of an early-season surprise. Maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a shock, though.

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Kyrou played his first full NHL season in 2020-21, registering 14 goals and 35 points in 55 games. He wasn’t a leading player in ice time then either, averaging 13:10 per game.

His per-minute production rates indicated a possible breakout star, though, and we’re seeing some evidence of that coming to fruition. Combining 2019-20 (28 games played) and 2020-21, Kyrou played a total of 83 games, scoring 18 goals and 44 points. Pretty good. Looking at that production through a per-minute lens, though, he has the potential for so much more.

Among all NHL forwards with at least 900 minutes of 5-on-5 action, here is where Kyrou ranked in key categories in the two seasons prior to this one.


*Numbers per Natural Stat Trick

Sometimes these per-minute rates are great indicators for players who don’t get top line minutes. In 2017-18, Jakub Vrana averaged 12:30 per game, scored 13 goals and had a 0.77 goals per 60 minutes rate at 5-on-5. The following season his ice time got up to 14:02 per game and he scored 24 times. In 2019-20 he averaged just under 15 minutes of ice time and notched 25 goals in 69 games — roughly a 30-goal pace. He was traded to Detroit at last season’s deadline because an opportunity wasn’t being offered to him in Washington, and Vrana answered with eight goals in 11 games averaging 17:16 of ice time a night. Injury has removed him from action this season.

In 2016-17, Oliver Bjorkstrand had a good start with six goals in 26 games and led all Blue Jackets in goals per 60 minutes with a small sample. His wasn’t a natural upward tick the following season, but in 2018-19 Bjorkstrand averaged 12:20 of ice time a game and again led the Blue Jackets with 1.35 goals per 60 minutes played at 5-on-5. In 2019-20 he broke out with 21 goals in 49 games (a roughly 35-goal pace) playing nearly 18 minutes a night.

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And Carter Verhaeghe, last year’s breakout NHL star, scored just nine times in 52 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019-20, averaging under 10 minutes of ice time per game. But his 5-on-5 goals per 60 was 1.04 that year. In 2020-21 with the Panthers, Verhaeghe scored 18 goals in 43 games (a 34-goal pace) as the Panthers offered him greater opportunity and 17:44 of ice time a night.

There are more examples, of course, but this gives you an idea of why we should be on the lookout for more in the years ahead for Kyrou as his ice time grows. But will he sustain it this season?

His shooting percentage was initially sky high at 25 per cent after scoring twice in his first two games, and that was always bound to come down. He went eight games before scoring another, and has now potted three more in his past two games. His 17.5 shooting percentage is still probably high, but settling into a range that is perhaps sustainable — his career shooting percentage is 13.2.

But what gives even more probability that Kyrou’s points rates can keep up (or close to it) is how often he’s earning primary assists at 5-on-5. His passes are directly leading to goals an awful lot — Kyrou’s five total primary assists at 5-on-5 ranks tied for second in the league. And that doesn’t consider his lesser ice time.

So it’s not just that Kyrou is scoring an exciting amount of goals in limited ice time, but he’s performed like an elite set up guy, too. All told, Kyrou is hanging around the top of the league in points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 action for all players with at least 10 games played so far — where he joins some interesting names.

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Kyrou was turning some heads early with eight points in his first four games and while he was never going to sustain a two-points-per-game pace, what’s promising here is that he’s continued on as a strong producer and is catching fire again, with four points in two games this week.

TROY TERRY, ANAHEIM DUCKS

The early “waiver wire MVP” in fantasy hockey circles, Troy Terry has now scored a point in 13 consecutive games for the longest active streak in the league. He’s scored 11 times, too — one off the league lead of 12 by Leon Draisaitl. Terry currently sits fourth in the NHL in points with 19 in 14 games, behind only Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin.

What a welcome development for a Ducks team that was dreadful last season and scored fewer goals than any other team.

The 24-year-old winger was a fifth-round pick of Anaheim’s back in 2015 and his number of NHL games played has been ticking up for a few years, though last season was the first he spent the entire season in the big leagues in a mostly bottom-six role. But, like Kyrou in St. Louis, Terry’s underlying numbers and scoring rates were pretty strong — he finished 2020-21 third on the Ducks in primary assists per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play and third in goals.

Mike Kelly of Sportlogiq laid out a pretty good explainer on some of what Terry is doing that can be sustained — though it’s unlikely he’ll be a 100-plus point player, and 60-plus goal scorer this season.

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There’s a wonder now if Terry can play his way on to Team USA’s Olympic roster and that certainly will be something to monitor in the coming months. And, funny enough, a former Team Canada star who’s probably aged out of the process could help him get there.

Terry’s centre is Ryan Getzlaf, who struggled through his worst season yet in the 56-game schedule and reduced his pay to $3 million on a re-sign this summer. But, despite the real age-related decline happening there, Getzlaf still has great vision and the ability to thread passes — a perfect complement to Terry, who is strong off the rush with a good shot. Only Adam Henrique (the third member of this top line) has had more high-danger chances in the front of the net this season.

Getzlaf, it should be noted, has already surpassed his assist total from all of last season.

If you’re a fantasy manager enjoying Terry’s explosion, you’re faced with the tough question of whether to sell high on him now, or hang on for the ride. Our fantasy expert Nick Alberga explores that possibility in his Friday mailbag here. The key thing to note is that Terry’s trade value probably is as high as it will ever be right now, but don’t take it too far — he may not be a top-10 scorer by the end of the season, but the breakout is definitely real.

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And the Ducks, with quite a few promising young players in their lineup, seem to have a stud to move into the future with.





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Aaron Rodgers to the Jets? Giants' free agency options & Mike McCarthy's future with Cowboys | Ask Jay Glazer

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Jay Glazer discussed whether Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will head to the New York Jets, the New York Giants’ free agency options, and breaks down Mike McCarthy’s future with the Dallas Cowboys.



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Super Bowl LVII: Chiefs and Eagles will meet for title in Arizona

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Patrick Mahomes finally got the best of Joe Burrow. 

All he needed was a little shove.

Harrison Butker made a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds left — after Cincinnati’s Joseph Ossai was flagged for a 15-yard penalty for shoving Mahomes after he was out of bounds — and the Chiefs beat the Bengals 23-20 in the AFC championship game to make it back to the Super Bowl.

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Kansas City will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona. 

The Eagles opened as a 1 1/2-point favourite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

There are no shortage of storylines: Kansas City coach Andy Reid goes against his old team — which he led to Super Bowl 39 — in a game that’s also the first matchup of Black starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl with Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. 

On top of that, there’s a brother-against-brother showdown between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce.

“Officially done being a Chiefs fan this season!! ” Jason Kelce tweeted immediately after the Chiefs won.

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The Chiefs have been making deep postseason runs on a regular basis ever since Mahomes came to town as the franchise quarterback. 

This was their fifth straight trip to the AFC title game and will be their third Super Bowl appearance in that span. They beat the 49ers for the NFL title in the 2019 season, but lost to the Bucs the following season.

The Eagles clobbered the Niners 31-7 in the NFC title game earlier Sunday. They’ve looked dominant in the playoffs so far, also beating the New York Giants 38-7 in the divisional round.

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Philadelphia is back in the Super Bowl five years after beating the New England Patriots 41-33 on Feb. 4, 2018. 

Now a mostly new generation of Eagles — led by coach Nick Sirianni and Hurts — will come to Arizona to try and win another title.

The Chiefs-Bengals game looked as if it was going to overtime before Ossai’s ill-advised play. Mahomes — who was playing on a badly sprained ankle — was running to get a first down in the final seconds as Ossai desperately tried to track him down. 

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Mahomes was out of bounds when Ossai gave him a shove, sending both players tumbling to the turf. The ensuing 15-yard penalty was enough to push Butker into field-goal range and the kick split the uprights.

A distraught Ossai sat on the bench with his head in his hands, well after the game was over.

The Bengals and Chiefs were playing for the fourth time in less than 400 days and Cincinnati had won the previous three meetings — all by three points. This one was decided by a field goal, too, and all Burrow could do was watch.

The Bengals lost to the Rams in last year’s Super Bowl and they just missed another chance at returning to the title game.

NO DRAMA IN NFC

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Oddsmakers thought fans were in for some close conference championship games. 

They’ll have to settle for a 50% success rate.

The NFC title game was a blowout. Niners rookie quarterback Brock Purdy was injured in the first quarter when Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick drilled his right arm on a play that was ruled a fumble. The Eagles recovered that fumble and the injury proved to be a game-changer.

With Purdy hurt, San Francisco turned to 36-year-old journeyman Josh Johnson, who couldn’t do much before eventually leaving with a concussion. Purdy came back into the game, but could barely throw, and the Eagles cruised to the win.

The 49ers dealt with quarterback injuries all season, losing Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo before turning to Purdy, a seventh-round draft pick out of Iowa State. Purdy stepped into a starter’s role in December and won his first seven games before Sunday’s injury. 

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Here’s a few things to know about the upcoming Super Bowl:

WHAT’S THE UPCOMING SCHEDULE?

FEB. 5

Pro Bowl flag-football game, 3 p.m. EST, ABC/ESPN

FEB. 12

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Super Bowl LVII, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. EST, Fox

RIHANNA AT HALFTIME

Rihanna will take center stage as the headline act for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

With sales of more than 250 million records worldwide, Rihanna ranks as one of the best-selling female artists ever. Her most recent album was 2016′s “Anti.” Rihanna last performed publicly at the Grammy Awards in 2018.

The singer said she turned down a similar opportunity for the 2019 Super Bowl that was ultimately headlined by Maroon 5. At the time, many artists voiced support for Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who protested police brutality against Black people and minorities by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

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Country music star Chris Stapleton will sing the national anthem, while R&B legend Babyface will perform “America the Beautiful.” 

PRO BOWL MAKEOVER

The Pro Bowl is getting a major makeover this year after the NFL eliminated its full-contact all-star game and replaced it with weeklong skills competitions and a flag football game.

The flag football contest is Feb. 5 in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium, one week before the Super Bowl.

The Pro Bowl debuted in January 1951 in Los Angeles and stayed there for 21 seasons before the game moved to different cities from 1972-80. Hawaii hosted from 1980-2009, and the game has had several homes in the years since, including Miami, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.

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“The game was kind of silly, I guess,” Saints two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk said back in September when the news was announced. “Guys weren’t out there playing true football. Hopefully, there’ll be a lot of interactions with the fans and guys will get their opportunity to go out there and show some skills. I could see that being a good change.”

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Ohio State hires James Laurinaitis & Tennessee extends Huepel's contract | Joel Klatt Show

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Joel Klatt discussed Ohio State Buckeyes hiring former linebacker James Laurinaitis as a defensive GA. Joel believes that Laurinaitis can help transform the defense into a powerhouse like the offense is for wide receivers. He then discussed the Tennessee Volunteers giving Josh Huepel a contract extension after their 11-win season.



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