At the end of a conversation about the Ryan Johansen trade, I had a different question for Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen.
If you had to chose between Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi in the 2016 Draft, who would you take? Pause. “I’m not telling you that,” he said with a laugh. Okay, let me try this: could either go number one instead of Auston Matthews? “I’m not telling you that, either.”
“Whatever happens,” he added, “Whoever picks those players is going to be very happy.”
A (very) informal survey of scouts and executives indicated Matthews remains the consensus number one. But, according to a couple of them, I should’ve asked Kekalainen a different question. If the opportunity arises, will he (or any other team) try to pull a Brian Burke and get both Finns?
It was the 1999 draft where Burke, as Vancouver’s GM, entered with the third overall selection. He traded Bryan McCabe and a 2000 first-rounder for Chicago’s top 1999 pick, which was one behind the Canucks’. He sent that choice (and two third-rounders) to Tampa for the top spot, then flipped the number one and two positions with Atlanta.
The Thrashers promised not to take either Sedin, and Vancouver snared both. It was a fantastic coup.
Watching Laine and Puljujarvi lead Finland past Canada, Sweden and Russia in single-elimination playoffs to win World Junior gold had some scouts dreaming about the possibility. Most of the draft lists I’ve seen (including Damien Cox’s here on Sportsnet) have them ranked right behind Matthews. If you can somehow find a way to get the second and third selections like Burke did, you’re laughing.
But it’s going to be so much harder now.
First of all, it’s a younger league, with the pendulum swinging farther and farther towards youth every season. McCabe was 24 in 1999. Teams don’t trade high-level 30-year-olds for high-level 24-year-olds anymore. Would they do a 24-year-old for an 18-year-old? With the onset of unrestricted free agency hitting between the ages of 25 and 27, I doubt it, especially if you’re in a serious rebuild.
Last year, Buffalo GM Tim Murray declined all offers for number two. Arizona GM Don Maloney considered a Dougie Hamilton offer for number three, but eventually decided to hold and take Dylan Strome.
In the last five years, only three top-10 selections have been moved at (or around) the draft. They were ninth overall in 2013 (Cory Schneider trade), eighth overall in 2012 (Jordan Staal) and eighth overall in 2011 (Jeff Carter). That’s it.
Uniting them is a nice idea, but so was Crystal Pepsi.
1. One scout on the Laine/Puljujarvi debate: “Laine is poor man's Corey Perry, a mean goal scorer who also has a bomb that he can unload from the Stamkos spot. His skating has come a long way from the past two years and is a serious consideration behind Matthews. He's been pretty good but not great like Matthews against men.
"Puljujarvi is right there, but doesn't have the sniper finish or the mean spirit that Laine does. He's an all-around offensive contributor who, like Laine, has really caught fire on the big stage. He has not been that great in the Finnish league as I expected. I guess the best way to describe him is that top line Bobby Ryan type with lots of skill, some size but sometimes will leave you wanting more.
"Where Matthews is going to be a true number one on a top line, Laine appears to be in the two or three range on a top line. Puljujarvi, like Laine, won't be a franchise guy, but a very good scorer.”
2. Among the pursuers for Jonathan Drouin, one source warned Monday Anaheim hasn’t got enough mention. It’s a logical bet, because no one needs offensive help more than the Ducks.
Several teams who have no chance to draft high see this as an opportunity to grab a player who would be long gone by the time they step to the podium. The conundrum for these clubs is, “How much better will a trade for Drouin make us now?”
If you’re in it to win the Stanley Cup this season, can you make a trade without taking a piece of your roster you need? For example, I was spitballing with someone about the possibility of Montreal offering Alex Galchenyuk for Drouin. His reply was succinct. “You can argue you’ll be better in two years if you’re the Canadiens. But, can you win the Stanley Cup in 2016?”
That’s where the Ducks are willing to take a chance, because, in a year where there’s pressure to win, they’re dead last in offence. It’s not close. And they have an intriguing prospect that Tampa could want.
3. Here’s what I understand Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is looking for: a young player who is under team control for some time. He has enough contractual concerns over the next few years that he doesn’t need any more.
He can’t take on money without sending it back. (Some other execs speculated he might try to package Matt Carle with Drouin.) That’s why, as good as Kevin Shattenkirk is, it’s not an easy fit for Tampa, because he’s going to get paid big-time in 2017 and you can’t extend him until July 1 at the earliest, assuming he is even willing to sign.
Among the needs are a right-shot defenceman or a forward with some edge, which is why Robby Fabbri’s name is out there. At AHL San Diego, Anaheim has the league’s number two scorer among defencemen and rookies, Brandon Montour, a right-hand shot. The Ducks could also consider Nick Ritchie. On paper, either move makes sense. In practice, who knows?
4. In the middle of all this, I went back over some notes. Remember when it was reported Tampa came closest to making Florida think about trading the Aaron Ekblad pick at the 2014 Draft? The Lightning would have had to give enough to move from 19 to one. Could the offer have been Drouin, Andrei Vasilevskiy and a first?
5. There was a wild rumour last weekend Montreal offered a roster player (not Galchenyuk), a prospect (not Michael McCarron) and a conditional first-rounder for Drouin. Shot down by multiple sources.
The thing about the Canadiens is, how does the uncertainty over Carey Price’s timeline affect Marc Bergevin’s decisions?
6. Can’t imagine there is another player in the NHL more tired of trade rumours than Shattenkirk. It’s a perfect storm right now.
The emergence of Colton Parayko, the Blues’ struggles and, most importantly, he’s a real good player a lot of teams would like. GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make, based on the way his team is playing and upcoming contract discussions.
I suspect that, if St. Louis won the Ryan Johansen derby, Shattenkirk would have gone to Columbus in that trade. That’s another reason his name seeped out. Everyone knew the Blue Jackets wanted defencemen, which is why Minnesota dangled Jonas Brodin.
7. The day of the Christmas trade freeze, there were a couple of teams who suspected someone was closing in on Johansen. It wasn’t Nashville. With 20-20 hindsight, it’s clear that intel was off, as Blue Jackets were willing to hold off on everything else to see if Nashville GM David Poile would budge on Seth Jones.
“I think it’s fair to say they were looking for the best defencemen offered to them,” Poile said the morning after. “It’s as simple as that.” He added he made the final decision to include Jones the afternoon the trade was done. “I knew there was no deal to make with them other than that.”
Kekalainen also wouldn’t come right out and say it was a waiting game for the 2013 fourth overall pick, but the inference was there. “We knew what we were looking for,” he answered.
8. After the announcement, Poile said, “We’ve been waiting 18 years for a number one centre.”
Asked about previous attempts to get one, he pointed to the biggest missed opportunity being the team’s first ever draft in 1998. The club was slotted third; Vincent Lecavalier went first to Tampa. The Predators traded a second-round pick to San Jose so he could move up one spot and grab David Legwand. That’s how important it was to get a centre.
Poile joked this difficulty runs in the family, as his father, Bud, Vancouver’s original GM, lost out on Hall-of-Famer Gilbert Perreault in 1970. The top pick in that draft was determined by one spin of a customized roulette wheel. The Canucks thought they won, until the Sabres pointed out the number was partially obscured. It was 11, instead of 1 — giving Vancouver the victory.
9. How much did the Predators look into whatever health issues Johansen had in the past six months? The GM declined to go in detail, but admitted they checked into it.
10. Now that the market’s loosening up a little, a few smaller things to keep an eye on: Colorado is at the maximum 50 contracts. No one likes that. Ever. No doubt they will try to drop one or two.
Columbus has nine defencemen. No one likes that, either. Maybe they leave one in Brooklyn after their game Tuesday for the ailing Islanders.
Buffalo has more of an AHL problem, with extra veterans that have to sit. The Sabres would like to ease that, and it’s possible one of their depth players at the NHL level is part of it.
11. Can’t imagine the cap makes it possible, but I wonder if Chicago would ever try to find a way to bring back Brandon Saad. They do miss him.
12. So, why does Detroit GM Ken Holland say the Red Wings are stuck with a $66M cap?
I assumed it was to hedge against bonuses that could be attained by Dylan Larkin or Brad Richards, but that is incorrect. It has everything to do with when Pavel Datsyuk was put on long-term injury relief.
CBA nerds can check Article 50.10 (d) of the document, and look for illustration number 4. The best way to utilize LTIR before the season begins is loaning bodies to the AHL so you get below the cap prior to invoking the relief. Detroit couldn’t do it.
There were guys eligible for waivers they didn’t want to risk losing. Then you try to stack the roster with as much salary as you can to utilize all of the injured player’s money. (For Datsyuk, that’s $7.5M.) Therefore, Detroit’s trying to get to the cap, plus Datsyuk’s value, so we’re talking $79M.
Their extra players didn’t make that much, and there was no sensible add. Since neither approach worked, the Red Wings lose out on what they missed by. That’s approximately $4.5M. Suffice it to say there’s a dartboard of whoever came up with this rule in Joe Louis Arena.
13. When the Los Angeles-Philadelphia trade came down, a lot of us assumed the Kings had to take both Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to get it done. With time to ask around, I don’t think it’s true.
In search of a centre, LA was considering signing Scott Gomez at the same time they were closing in on Lecavalier. Ultimately, they chose the latter, with his size (as compared to Gomez’s) being a factor.
Also, don’t underestimate GM Dean Lombardi’s Bill Walton comparison. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Walton, MVP of the 1977 NBA Final, was acquired by the 1986 Boston Celtics for one last run after several lost seasons due to injury.
Lombardi’s a big believer in giving one-time stars a last chance. As NHL Network’s E.J. Hradek tweeted, Lecavalier won 13 of 16 faceoffs Monday vs. Detroit. He was 4/4 in the offensive zone and 7/8 in the Kings’ end.
14. Earlier in the season, there was a vibe Flyers GM Ron Hextall seemed confident he could move Schenn. It turns out he’d been talking to Lombardi for awhile. The Kings sized up a few options.
My guess is they thought about Dustin Byfuglien, but, assuming he will be available, knew it would be difficult to pull off without a first-round pick (it belongs to Carolina from the Andrej Sekera deal). Willie Mitchell is unrestricted after this season, and they know him very well, but Florida’s not trading him the way they’re going.
I’d also heard they thought about Buffalo’s Josh Gorges, but he has term, and it wouldn’t be easy to handle that. Don't forget associate coach John Stevens has done great work with L.A.’s blue-liners, so we’ll see how Schenn benefits.
15. One other note about the Flyers, they cannot keep any more salary in trades.
They are at the maximum of three — Lecavalier, Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann. All will come off the cap this summer, unless Lecavalier goes full Hulk Hogan nWo and decides to keep playing.
That affects two futures. The first is Sam Gagner, who had seven shots on goal in his last AHL game on Sunday. The other is Andrew MacDonald, who they would like to get back in the NHL, I assume on their own blue-line. Word is they don’t feel he should be stuck in Lehigh Valley.
16. Weird Stuff I: Anze Kopitar looked brilliant with a four-point night against the Red Wings, but we still don’t have a signed contract. We all think it’s coming.
It sure seemed like he thought it was coming when the Kings came through Toronto in December. It’s one of the stranger negotiations I’ve covered, because everything points to it happening but we’re not there. Now, the conspiracy theories are coming. “Is there a problem we’re not aware of?” “Are they at an impasse?”
Teams are having their scouting meetings now, and one exec asked if he should actually plan for the possibility Kopitar hits the market.
17. Weird Stuff II: In 1998, Felix Potvin left the Toronto Maple Leafs, deciding he’d rather go home and wait for a trade than sit behind Curtis Joseph. That’s the closest thing I could remember to Vancouver’s announcement that Chris Higgins was leaving the club until he could be traded.
The Canucks were roasted locally for letting Frankie Corrado get away on waivers, and this move undoubtedly was made to prepare the fanbase for the possibility it could happen again. John Tortorella is a Higgins fan. With the Columbus coach blasting his veterans, I wondered if the Blue Jackets were a match. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
18. Everybody’s got their favourite Alex Ovechkin stats. Here’s the wildest one, to me: There is only one player from his draft year within 300 goals of his 501. That’s Evgeni Malkin (287). The next closest is Andrew Ladd, with 195.
The second-place guy from his draft year is 306 scores away! It’s just obscene. By comparison, Eric Staal (320) leads Corey Perry by eight among 2003 selections and Kopitar trails Sidney Crosby (314) by 84 from 2005.
If you took his career total and put it up against every other round of that 2004 class, he’d outscore seven of them by himself.
|Rest of Round 1||1,517||Evgeni Malkin, Andrew Ladd, Drew Stafford|
|Round 2||744||David Krejci, David Booth, Brandon Dubinsky|
|Round 3||452||Johan Franzen, Alex Edler, Brandon Prust|
|Round 4||408||Ryan Callahan, Tyler Kennedy|
|Round 5||295||Kris Versteeg, Mikhail Grabovski|
|Round 9||265||Jannik Hansen, Mark Streit, Daniel Winnik|
|Round 7||199||Troy Brouwer|
|Round 6||135||Mike Santorelli|
|Round 8||32||Brandon Yip|
The other crazy thing about Ovechkin is he’s third on the active list behind Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla.
Look at the guys behind him, and how many goals they had when he started. Patrik Elias had 207 before Ovechkin played an NHL game. Marian Hossa had 188, Patrick Marleau 153, Lecavalier 146 and Shane Doan 142. He’s lapped them all.
19. My first encounter with Ovechkin was minutes after Russia beat Canada to win the 2003 World Junior Tournament in Halifax. He was friendly, but shy, preferring not to do interviews in English.
I remember thinking, “Too bad. He’s so talented, but the language barrier is going to prevent us from getting to know him.”
As usual, my instincts were 100 per cent accurate. I always admired how he threw himself into the maelstrom, challenging himself to have fun answering questions in English. No matter what anyone thinks, Ovechkin burns to win the Stanley Cup.
Even with $50M remaining on his contract, I would argue he’s already earned each cent of the $124M commitment the Capitals made to him. He didn’t build Verizon Center, but is the centrepiece of the renovation.
20. Robin Lehner stopped 44 of 50 shots over the weekend in his first two AHL starts. Buffalo appreciated the fact he went with the team to Binghamton on Saturday to back up, as Lehner was given the option to stay home. (Maybe a former teammate owed him poker money.)
Rochester is in Albany on Wednesday, and if he gets through that healthy, does he start in one of the back-to-back games against Boston or Washington next weekend? “Welcome back, Robin. You might want to keep an eye on that number eight.”
21. Not exactly certain what the format will be, but it is a guarantee the NHL will change the All-Star voting format. (Los Angeles is considered a favourite for the 2017 version.)
The easiest solution is only allowing fans to vote for a specific list of players. Another way is making the public total count for less than 100 per cent of a player’s overall amount. But, fan voting will remain.
There is not supposed to be an expansion vote at All-Star Weekend. (I’m always in fear of writing something like this and seeing five new teams announced.)
22. Don’t know if it’s a strange coincidence, but, for the second straight suspension, a player will return against the team he “fouled.”
Brad Marchand resumed play against Ottawa, while Matt Hendricks’ first game back after Monday’s suspension is in Florida. Hendricks’ was the sixth suspension this season on a play that was not penalized. There were 9 in 2014-15.
23. Sweden did not medal at the World Juniors, but coach Rikard Gronborg, who will also run the country’s World Cup entry, is a name to remember. He’s had some NHL interest.
“I have had discussions about positions and scenarios, but I was not offered a contract,” he said during a phone conversation on Monday. “It intrigues me, very much.” Gronborg did not reveal which team(s) he spoke with.
Ivan Hlinka lasted 86 games in Pittsburgh and Alpo Suhonen 82 with Chicago as the last European NHL bosses. He recognizes that it may have to be as an assistant first.
“It’s a tough step for someone to hire a European coach, because if it doesn’t work, it’s his neck on the line…There are cultural and language differences you have to learn, but why not? There are some excellent coaches in Europe.”
He said Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen, who has won Gold Medals at the World Championships and World Juniors, could also be a good candidate.
24. The difference between Gronborg and many of his peers is he has extensive experience in North America.
“Mats Naslund set up a tryout for me with the Verdun Juniors in 1988. It was a good camp, and even though I went back home, some colleges started calling.”
He told a hilarious story about not being able to find the person who was supposed to pick him up at the airport upon his initial arrival, so he went looking through the phone book. It was Jacques Lemaire.
Anyway, his father had relatives in Wisconsin, and Gronborg chose nearby St. Cloud State, which was reviving its program after a brief absence. Following a short return to Sweden, he came back to North America.
“I met with my wife at school and I was a better student than hockey player,” he laughs. He started in Division III, moving up the ladder to the point where he interviewed for the WHL Spokane job in 2005, losing out to Bill Peters. He went back overseas, where’s he become one of the country’s top coaches.
25. How do you see yourself compared to North American coaches?
“I like to call myself a hybrid,” he answers. “In Sweden, there’s a lot of emphasis on skating, training, good drills. Here, I learned preparation…how careful everything is planned. The way North American coaches assemble lines, coach lines, in-game adjustments. Video. We never did that.”
Russian coaches, for example, are privately mocked by their North American counterparts for not ever changing lines or adjusting. Also: “Swedes involve players in a lot, not to make decisions but to have ownership. It creates smart players, and is why several of them are captains in the NHL…thinking guys, who take responsibility and ownership in what they do.”
Gronborg will work with Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Lidstrom and Mats Sundin on the World Cup team. Did you try to get them to play? “That train is gone,” he laughed.
26. Last one on Gronborg: A couple of weeks ago, I linked to an article about Swedish junior goalie Linus Soderstrom, who is on the autism spectrum. Was it difficult coaching him?
“We took courses about this, how to set up guidelines. Some things you learn, ‘He can’t do that, it’s not functional for him,’ so you have to set up a different environment. He needs structure. It’s black and white. If he’s used to getting his next day’s schedule at five o’clock, if it’s two minutes late, he’s calling to ask, ‘Where is it?’
"He’s an excellent goalie. He would say, ‘Coach what do I have to do?’ We would tell him, ‘If we do this and that defensively, the shots are going to come from here.’ He’d say, ’Okay, I have my task.’ His focus is so much better than ours. You give him a task and he can be focussed on it, no matter if the World Junior Final or Game 45 of a season. We’re pretty proud of what he’s accomplished.”
27. The Islanders drafted Soderstrom and a real good Russian, Ilya Sorokin, 17 picks apart in 2014.
Sorokin leads the KHL in goals against and save percentage. Not bad. One less thing for GM Garth Snow to worry about. Now we’ll see when they decide to come over to North America. Jeff Reese said it took Sergei Bobrovsky two years to get used to NHL traffic and straight-line play.
28. Florida’s 12-game win streak ended in Vancouver on Monday night. It was a great run for a team that made some administrative changes in the middle of this. GM Dale Tallon got an extension and Tom Rowe, who was coaching AHL Portland, got promoted to the NHL club’s associate GM position.
A move that didn’t get as much attention was the October elevation of Eric Joyce to the AHL team’s GM position, in addition to his duties with the big club (assistant to Tallon). The Panthers recently made two respected analytic hires — Josh Weissbock and an anonymous individual known as “MoneyPuck” — a department Joyce oversees. His influence in the organization is growing, and so is speculation he will be Tallon’s eventual successor.
29. Denna Laing is going to be a must-follow on social media. Her first public comment was a moving Facebook post. Monday night, a video showing some of her first spoken words was placed on her Twitter feed. It is very powerful. Donations for her care can be made here.
30. The album “Let’s Dance” came out in 1983. A friend in high school bought a VHS copy of the tour video. He drove a few of us insane, because he only wanted to watch the first 10 seconds. That featured a swirling camera shot going from the sky to David Bowie, who turned to look right into the lense. He loved it.
We’d want to listen to the songs, but he’d play, stop, rewind, play, stop, rewind — until we smashed it with a hammer. Yeah, it sounds bad, but anyone in our position would have done the same thing.
I was struck by how many tributes indicated Bowie gave people strength to be different, because it was who they really were. It’s hard, especially when you’re a teenager. That’s a tremendous legacy.