Mark Scheifele took a rather cheeky approach to reinforcing to the world he and Dustin Byfuglien no longer work for the same people.
During a 45-minute video conference Monday afternoon, John Dellapina, the NHL’s vice-president of communications, put the Winnipeg Jets centre and two other star forwards, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, on the proverbial ‘spot’.
The former Rangers beat writer tossed out different scenarios focusing on the skills of players around the NHL, such as ‘Who’s the toughest defenceman to play against?’ or “Who’s the toughest faceoff man?” and asked the talented trio for their takes.
The only caveat? Choosing a teammate was forbidden.
“(It’s a) tense time. You’re getting ready for a Game 7 or just need a laugh on the bench. Who do you want to be sitting next to?” asked Dellapina. Scheifele quickly deduced he was free to choose the hulking, 35-year-old defenceman.
“Honestly, I think it’s actually within the rules that I can pick Dustin Byfuglien,” he said, generating big laughs from the group. “It’s gotta be him. He is, by far, the most relaxed guy in the game. No matter what’s going on, no matter how the game’s going, he definitely will make a joke and get you going.
“I could hear from the other side of the bench him yelling at someone. I don’t even know who he was yelling at. He could be yelling at a fan, who knows. He’s always joking around, so I’m going with him.”
For those not following the soap opera The Jets and the Restless this season, Byfuglien hasn’t played a shift for the Central Division squad during the 2019-20 season and won’t when the NHL — currently on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic — finally returns to the ice.
The veteran blue-liner asked for, and was given, a leave of absence prior to training camp and has since been suspended by Winnipeg. His contract will likely be terminated and he’ll become a free agent.
Scheifele, Kane and Barzal, all self-professed hockey nerds, don’t just play for big pay; they eat, breathe and sleep the game. Monday’s video Q&A provided an intriguing and amusing look at what makes them tick and their thoughts on the NHL players they most admire.
Here are some of the abbreviated responses from Scheifele, a seven-year pro who had 29 goals and 73 points to share the Jets’ scoring lead with Kyle Connor (38G, 35A) prior to the suspension of play March 12:
Q: On an average night, when you’re not playing, are you always watching games?
A: “Yeah, unless it’s football Sunday. Actually, Saturday, too. My roommate, (Jets forward) Andrew Copp, takes over for college football, so that’s his one day with the remote. In Winnipeg, (NHL) games are usually on at 6 (p.m.)… a lot of the time you’re just trying to catch a good game, finding guys you like to watch.”
Q: You’re up by a goal and there’s a faceoff in your end with 10 seconds left. Who’s taking the faceoff? And remember, you can’t take a teammate?
A: “I’m going to go with (Boston Bruins centre Patrice) Bergeron. I actually had some good nights against him, unless you’re in Boston and the stats guys give it to him a little bit. When push comes to shove, you put him in the faceoff dot he’s gonna take it.”
Q: You’re on a 1-on-1 and the game’s on the line. Which defenceman do you least want to see against you?
A: “I’m gonna go with Ryan Suter. We play Minnesota a ton and his angles are so good. When you go 1-on-1, you’re probably going to try to back him down a little bit, probably try to beat him. And his angles are so good, his stick’s so good, you’re not going to be able to shoot through him, he blocks shots. He’s just so hard to beat.”
Q: Who’s the guy you most want with the puck on a 2-on-1 with you?
A: “I’d have to say Blake Wheeler but I can’t say him. If I’m cocked for the one-timer, I’m probably gonna want a rightie passing to me, a little better angle, he’s able to manipulate that D-man a little better… I’m gonna go with (Steve) Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning). He’s not known for his passing but I’ve skated with him a lot over the years and he does a little two-on-one pass that’s pretty nifty.”
Q: Most fearless defenceman at the point when you’re coming at him?
A: “(Nashville blue-liner) Roman Josi, by far. He’s fearless back there. He’ll spinorama two different times, he’ll toe-drag you, he’ll go right down the middle. If he has just an inch on you, he’s gonna take advantage.”
Q: You have a breakaway and the game’s on the line. Which goalie do you not want to see in the opposing net?
A: “Carey Price, for sure. He’s so calm in the net. He literally out-confidences you. His confidence and his ability, he’s No. 1 who I definitely don’t want to see.”
Q: A playoff berth is on the line, it’s the last game of the season and it goes to overtime. Which two other guys do you want with you in OT?
A: “I’m going to go with (Connor) McDavid and (Leon) Draisaitl, I’ll go with those (Edmonton) teammates. They’ll probably just go and score themselves and I’ll be the defenceman. It seems every game they get into overtime, 30 seconds in Draisaitl’s got a breakaway, McDavid’s got a breakaway or a 2-on-1 or maybe even a 2-on-0 and they’re scoring.”
Q: What about in all of history? Which threesome would you like to see play overtime?
A: After Kane takes Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr, Scheifele adds, “I’m going to throw in some of my heroes in there. I’m going with Stevie Y. He was my favourite player, so I’m going to throw Yzerman in there and I’ll throw (personal skills coach) Oatsey (Adam Oates) my other hero in there and (former junior coach and Jets star) Dale Hawerchuk.”
Q: What’s your message to fans who are missing hockey during the coronavirus threat?
A: “First and foremost, take all the precautions to stay safe. This is kind of a ‘we’re all in this together’ thing and everyone’s doing their part to keep everyone else safe. The biggest thing is stay at home, keep your distance, make sure you wash your hands. That’s all our duty to do. Stay safe. We all can’t wait to be back playing hockey again soon.”
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
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