EDMONTON – In a competitive environment, every well-being redemption story has its sad shadow.
This is life in the NHL, where roster positions and salary quotas are finite. Only so much ice can be shared.
One man's opportunity is at the expense of the other.
When we stopped Frederik Gauthier from skating on Saddledome Thursday from running out of the Toronto Maple Leafs' dressing room – last man from the ice, last man from the shower – the player told us what he really thought of it sitting outside four consecutive games after excellent performance in the first 29.
"Honestly, it's a shame to be scratched," said Gauthier. "I felt that things were going well, things were going in my direction."
Indeed they were.
The only game by Mike Babcock in the fourth row was the 24-year-old Gauthier – a late blooming organizational project since his design at the end of the first round in 2013 – on the right path for career highs in the games played, ice time, shots and goals ,
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After Gauthier found the strings twice in the four opening competitions of the club, he published a photo of himself on Instagram that was marked with the self-despising "# ontheroadto50".
Shoot the stars.
The eye test revealed a faster, smarter, more aggressive pivot that is safe in its simple tasks: win D-zone draws, drive hard on the foredeck, finish your shift at the end of the bad guys and please don't let them score.
The underlying figures have also developed well. Gauthier's Corsi has never been higher (47%), although his offensive zone starts have never been closer (21.2%).
Before we called Justin Holl, we thought seriously about Gauthier to name the best Leafs player for our quarterly report.
Everything came up goat … until it was suddenly returned to the barn.
When Sheldon Keefe took the helm, the more vocal and versatile Jason Spezza became the club's climber at 4C.
The summoned Marlies Pontus Aberg, Nic Petan and Pierre Engvall all temporarily jumped Gauthier into the pecking order.
As soon as Trevor Moore (possible to return on Saturday) and Andreas Johnsson (at least until December 27th) leave the injured reserve, more corpses will move to the waiver wire.
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Thirty-three games, competition and experiments continue to bubble up in the bottom six of the Leafs.
Thursday we asked Keefe what Gauthier had to do to get back into the lineup.
"There's not much he can do," said Keefe. “He played well before. We’re just looking at different things. Fred was here and he was sort of a staple on this fourth line. We feel pretty comfortable with what it can offer.
“We are trying to see what other options our group might have. And when the time comes and he goes back in, we expect him to just continue what he did. "
While key figures such as Tyson Barrie, Spezza and Holl have had a higher role since the change of coach, Gauthier is one of those who were taken a step back in this transition phase.
A steady barrage of injuries and chemical experiments – Keefe drew three out of four lines between the victory in Vancouver on Tuesday and the defeat in Calgary on Thursday – have brought several actors into a state of change.
Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people in the hockey world and then tell the audience everything about what they heard and what they think about it.
“The whole team went through a lot of change when the new coach came in, and I think there were a couple of things that I had to adjust to, a few things that I still found out with the systems and everything tries. Says Gauthier. "When he got here, it was a new energy. I think it's all alive.
"But for my part you just want to be in the lineup. It sucks not to play."
The likeable Gauthier, an NHL body with AHL hands, performed well in the framework of Babcock's chip-and-chase approach. He admits that there is a learning curve with Keefes' more ownership-based philosophy, but he really wants to prove that it can still be effective.
"I don't know if one [system] suits me better than the other, but frankly I played in the other," said Gauthier. "The only thing [Keefe] said to me is that I played well, but we'll take care of you." I do not know why.
"I asked him if I was doing something wrong, if there was something that I should do better. And there was really no answer. He just said: 'You played well. You do things well."
Both can be true. Gauthier has gone to work to become a reliable fourth-tier professional, and he may not go perfectly with the best version of these Maple Leafs as Keefe imagined.
According to the Goat Tracker, the affable tall man will retire to the lineup in Edmonton on Saturday evening and see his first Western Swing action. He will be rested and eager.
“We don't want one of our boys to sit too long,” said Keefe, “because if you need them, they are of course not as prepared as you would like them to be. "