30 Thoughts: Getting closer to expansion answers

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discusses some guidelines to the expansion process that came out of the GM meetings in Florida, including rules to make possible new teams immediately more competitive than past expansion teams.

Now, we have a clearer picture on expansion rules, and even a timeline.

I flew back to Toronto Wednesday morning, but, as the GM meetings closed, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said a decision on zero, one or two clubs will come before this year’s draft. That’s June 24-25 in Buffalo.

As some managers predicted, they will be able to protect fewer players from potential expansion clubs than the last time. That was 2000, when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild entered. The biggest change is there was an option to hold onto two goalies, although it meant protecting fewer skaters. That’s out. You can only hold on to one.

The choice is three defencemen and seven forwards OR eight skaters of any makeup. One expansion team means you can only lose one player. Two means two players. Anyone with fewer than three years of professional experience is exempt. You don’t have to worry about losing them.

We’re still waiting for clarity on no-move clauses. The official message was: we haven’t decided yet. But the managers think they know what’s coming.

“What do you think about the expansion draft?” I asked one last week.

“I think,” he said, “We’re going to find out how much the NHL hates no-move clauses. They are going to $#%& us.”

The league has hinted Article 11.8, Section (c) of the CBA gives it reason to believe an NMC does not protect anyone from being selected by a potential Las Vegas or Quebec City franchise. That paragraph reads, “A no-move clause may prevent the involuntary relocation of a Player, whether by Trade, Loan or Waiver claim.” There’s nothing about expansion.

People are entitled to what they can negotiate. If you can get a no-move clause, good on you. But, as the one GM mentioned, leagues despise them. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred railed against several opt-out clauses awarded in baseball over the winter, and the NHL feels no differently about this type of protection.

However, barring a major surprise, there does not seem to be a thirst inside NHL offices to fight the expected union pushback. The teams might want it to happen, but they aren’t holding their collective breath.

One agent thought players with no-move clauses might be eligible for selection if they submitted a written agreement saying so. His argument was that some players would want to go to Las Vegas, since there is no state income tax. But that theory was met with scepticism from several other sources who believe the NHL wants a blanket policy.

This leads to two more questions: First, how will no-trade clauses be treated? Should someone with this slightly inferior protection expect total safety from expansion selection? After all, they could be claimed by any club on waivers.

Second, does a player with a no-move clause count among the guys you have to protect? This is relevant because everyone is expecting Commissioner Gary Bettman to make any new team competitive. There will be no creation of patsies here.

Let’s say you’ve got three no-move clauses. Must they be part of your protection list because they can’t be selected? If yes, it increases the risk of exposing more of your roster. No one qualifies for a no-move until they are eligible for unrestricted free agency. That’s either seven years in the NHL or age 27. There’s a gap between those ineligible for an expansion draft and those eligible for no-move protection.

No team wants to hear that.


1. One other trend to keep an eye on: how many two-year contracts get signed between now and potential expansion selection? If opposing clubs know they have to lose at least one or two players to new teams, they will make sure to add guys they would be comfortable exposing. One-year deals may have little value to expansion teams, since those players would be unsigned days after a possible June 2017 draft.

2. Teams were told to expect a $74M salary cap, down $500,000 from the estimate given at December’s Board of Governors meeting. This assumes the players will vote in favour of using the “growth factor,” which increases the ceiling by five per cent.

Last year, there was plenty of noise they wouldn’t, since it increases escrow amounts. At they end of the day, they still agreed to raise the roof. There’s a lot of pressure to do it. It’s a pretty simple, but powerful message: why should the maximum room be available when you’re a free agent, and not someone else?

3. Prospective Seattle arena owner Chris Hansen was recently seen in the NHL’s Manhattan offices, but Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly once again shot down any possibility that city could re-enter the process.

“It’s not unusual for (Hansen) to meet with us when he comes to New York,” Daly said at the GM meetings. “But, as we’ve said before, Seattle is not going to be part of this.”

There is frustration in the NHL with the region, with some execs feeling the league shouldn’t touch it with a 50-foot pole after none of the rumoured groups submitted an expansion application.

“Big hat, no cattle,” one executive (not Daly) said about potential owners there.

On Tuesday, Seattle City Council began public hearings into closing one block of a particular street, Occidental Avenue. The vote is scheduled for next month. If the decision is “yes, we’ll close it,” that moves Hansen’s long-planned new arena closer to reality. Currently, legislation calls for a Memorandum of Understanding that the city secure an NBA team before it commits public financing for the building, but there’ve been suggestions it makes sense to agree to fund the project for an NHL club, too. Hansen, though, has not shown interest in hockey ownership. I’m not sure, among the league’s most powerful owners and people, there is a belief Seattle can get its act together. They are wary.

4. As we get closer to the endgame, my biggest question is: what happens if the NHL asks Quebec City to wait? Canadians want to see it happen, but you can see the rationale, as the dollar’s decrease provides a built-in excuse — for now. Quebecor chairman Brian Mulroney all but said in a radio interview last week the dollar drop is going to put this bid on the backburner. But, will the league “message” it properly? You know it’s going to be emotional. You know there is going to be anger. Can it be explained in a manner that won’t cause fury?

5. With critical injuries occurring post-deadline, both Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford and New York Islanders counterpart Garth Snow said they will not try to acquire short-term replacements for Evgeni Malkin and Jaroslav Halak, respectively. (EDIT: I mucked this one up earlier. You can make trades now, but players would only be eligible for the AHL. The only adds the Islanders or Penguins could make would be free agents who were not on any NHL reserve list at the time of the deadline. I misunderstood what someone had explained to me.)

Snow texted a simple “no” when asked if he would try something, and backup Jean-Francois Berube was very good in a 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh Tuesday night. As for Rutherford, he said you’re not going to replace Malkin, but felt the Penguins addressed centre depth last off-season by adding Nick Bonino and Eric Fehr, who has also played the wing. Pittsburgh’s also grinding it out with several players coach Mike Sullivan became comfortable with when he started the season at AHL Wilkes-Barre.

6. Islanders coach Jack Capuano, discussing John Tavares, who is 34 points behind Patrick Kane for the NHL scoring lead:

“I’m never going to prevent him from being creative. I know all those elite players look at their numbers, their point totals and compare…But we need Johnny to play a certain way. Our players look up to him and follow him. If he does the right things, they will, too.” Capuano paused. “And, I tell him that there is a reason he’s always on the Olympic Teams and the World Cup Teams. It’s because he’s versatile, can play centre or wing, and because he plays the right way. Everyone knows it.”

7. Hearing the St. Louis Blues could be the next team to plunge deeper into analytics. Word at the Sloan Sports Conference, held last weekend in Boston, is the Blues are looking to hire someone.

8. When Jarred Tinordi tested positive for PEDs, Tim Micallef asked if there was any way teams could reverse trades or escape free-agent contracts in such circumstances. Are they stuck? Turns out this is addressed in the CBA. It can be found in Article 47, Section 11 (b).

It reads, “If a Player is subject to a transaction that results in a change to his status and such transaction was completed between the date on which he was informed of (a positive test) and the date upon which a suspension is announced…a Club alleging that it is adversely affected as a result of the nondisclosure…may file a Grievance within two (2) days from the date the suspension is announced…If the Grievance is upheld, the Arbitrator shall have full authority to fashion an appropriate remedy pursuant to traditional standards of contract law, including the authority to void the transaction.”

In Tinordi’s case, that would mean retroactively voiding the John Scott trade. Could you imagine after everything that happened? Anyway, I don’t think this is an avenue the Arizona Coyotes seriously pursued.

9. If the Los Angeles Kings can’t sign Milan Lucic, we’ve all assumed the Vancouver Canucks will make a major run. Nick Kypreos threw out the Edmonton Oilers as a chaser, too. A lot of history between Lucic and Peter Chiarelli.

10. Sounds like a few other teams tried to test the Oilers’ patience with Nail Yakupov at the deadline. They found Chiarelli has a price in mind and wasn’t willing to go beneath it. There were rumours about the Montreal Canadiens' interest, but it doesn’t appear as if the Canadiens were too interested.

11. As NHL teams await this year’s crop of NCAA free agents (not the strongest class we’ve seen), there are some questions about the availability of Minnesota State defenceman Casey Nelson. As a junior, he has one more year to play, if he wishes.

A couple of weeks ago, indications were he would stay in college and several clubs were told that. But there is some doubt that is a certainty. We will see. There definitely is interest.

12. The NHL’s response to James Oldham dropping Dennis Wideman’s suspension from 20 games to 10 was ominous, a statement saying they “strenuously disagree” with the ruling and were trying to determine “what next steps may be appropriate.”

I don’t think there’s any desire to go after Wideman, since the ridiculously lengthy process cost him 19 of the 20 games, although he does get money back. If the NHL does anything, look to what the NFL is trying with the latest Tom Brady Deflategate court filing. Commissioner Roger Goodell went to the US Court of Appeals, trying to regain control over imposing discipline on players. That’s my inkling of what Bettman wants here. If the NFL wins, I could see the NHL following that path.

13. There is one chapter still to be written in the Wideman story and that is Don Henderson’s. The linesman reportedly is battling concussion symptoms and other injuries from the incident. Clearly, his officiating brethren are extremely unhappy the penalty was reduced. One of the unanswered questions is if Henderson will pursue legal action.

During the process, part of Wideman's defence was showing video of Henderson getting knocked down at least once previously, with the inference that he could not get out of the way. That caused some hard feelings. Adding new layers to all this is, according to several sources, his relationship with the league has been strained for some time. He hasn’t worked in the post-season for several years and there was disagreement over when he’d retire. That decision may be out of his hands, with the injuries making it impossible to continue. But throw all of this together, and you’ve got another emotional and intense dispute.

14. It’s important to note the wording in TVA’s Renaud Lavoie report on the future of Michel Therrien. Lavoie never said Therrien was guaranteed to come back, but that there would be “surprise” if he didn’t.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has a philosophy when it comes to his club — no hints, clues or announcements unless something is necessary or final. He likes to control the message, which is very hard in Montreal. It frustrates him, which leads to comments like, “Don’t believe everything you hear.”

I don’t know what Bergevin is going to do. But I do know he’s not telling anyone until he has to, and that time is not yet.

15. I also know no other GM can pull off electric blue pants like Bergevin can.

16. If the Carolina Hurricanes do not make the playoffs, you have to think coach Bill Peters — who is on the World Cup staff — will lead Canada’s World Championships entry. With Connor McDavid as part of the team.

17. We’re going to get interesting insight into the way the Toronto Maple Leafs organization really thinks, and the test case is going to be Martin Marincin. Marincin is playing very well as the season progresses, getting more minutes almost by attrition. He has, for a few years now, been highly regarded by the analytics community and Toronto’s assembled a bright staff of these thinkers.

Last year, there was no doubt they had influence. When Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock arrived, the feeling was that influence would decrease, by a large margin. Marincin is not a points producer. He’s not overly physical. He defends well. I’m very curious to see how much Babcock/Lamoriello value him at contract time and as the organization grows in talent.

18. Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello, on how close his current roster will be to next season’s: “I don’t think it’s close to what we will see. If we had to put a percentage, I’d probably say 50 per cent, maybe 60 if stretching it. But I think you’ll see changes.”

What changes? He called it “premature” to give an exact answer.

“You’ll see young players in the lineup, how many I couldn’t answer… And I’m sure you’ll see acquisitions that hopefully we’re able to make. We know what our template is, I think we know what our needs are, and getting them filled is another thing. Once you identify them then it’s what can you do, and you can’t get ahead of yourself just for the sake of doing it….I do believe we’re a little bit ahead of where I thought we might be because of what the potential is — and I’m very careful of that word with some of our younger players — and how they’ve developed and the success they’ve had with the Marlies coming together, working together, knowing what it is to win.”

19. Is Mitch Marner, who cannot play in the American Hockey League next season, ready for the NHL?

“That’s a tough question,” Lamoriello said. “I do not feel that he’s ready today, whether he’s ready in September or October only time will tell. But he’s in a very difficult position with the success he’s had in junior, and maybe he’s too good for junior, coming September maybe not quite ready for the National Hockey League. So those will be judgments that have to be made at a certain time, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. He’s got a season in the Ontario league right now that should be his focus, that’s where it should be.”

20. A couple other execs who know Lamoriello well say he might not admit it, but he needed a change. They used the word “rejuvenated” to describe him. Does he feel that way?

“Maybe. I’ll let you know a little more at a later period of time, but right now everybody is working toward a common goal. No one is allowing the media or the fans to get in the way of the decisions that have to be made. Whatever pressure is coming is whatever we put on internally, which is the way it should be, and I can assure you we put pressure on each other. That's the only way you succeed.”

21. In this week’s edition of questions Lamoriello laughs at and ignores: “Whoever gets the number one draft pick, are they guaranteed to take Auston Matthews?”

Answer: “We’ll have to see at that draft table.”

What if you get it?

“We’ll have to see.”

22. Ryan Johansen, on what it was like when the Nashville Predators were struggling and out of playoff position:

“You would be sitting in your stall before games. Coaches and players would be looking right into everyone’s eyes, saying, ‘Are you giving us everything you’ve got?’"

Who was the most intimidating?

“(Shea) Weber. He’s like…Sasquatch,” Johansen replied with a bit of a laugh. He joked the Nashville captain could hurt you if he wanted to. “He doesn’t win every battle, but he’s always competing, always giving everything he has.”

The team’s streak of 14 consecutive games with a point ended in Vancouver on Saturday. The Predators recovered with a 3-2 win in Edmonton.

23. Do not underestimate the pride the Detroit Red Wings have in their playoff streak. As Henrik Zetterberg said in a must-win game at Dallas three years ago, “We are not missing the playoffs on my watch.”

That’s why Anthony Mantha got the call, and it was instructive head coach Jeff Blashill used the “long-term” terminology. Detroit felt strongly Mantha was not to be recalled on a one game up, one game down basis. GM Ken Holland has talked about that before, how a team can create an impression a player is not doing very well if there’s a yo-yo up and down. They want Mantha in a position to succeed and you’ve got to give him a chance to jump into the deep end. In a perfect world, I’m not sure he gets this opportunity yet. But the Red Wings are desperate for scoring, and that is his greatest skill.

No doubt the organization hoped for a day Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin, Mantha and Petr Mrazek would be so critical to its success. No way anyone thought that time would come so quickly.

24. One coach watches Jaromir Jagr and sees the future of the Sedins.

“If the players around them take care of the speed, they can take advantage of their skills and smarts for years,” he said. “That’s how it works in Florida. They get Jagr the puck in the offensive zone and he does the rest.”

The twins are 35 and have two more years left on their contracts. They’re in good enough shape to play longer than that if they wish to.

25. Kay Whitmore, who is spearheading the NHL’s reduction in goalie equipment, had a great line on Corey Hirsch’s Sportsnet video essay: “We showed his piece on what can be done, but we took out his voice.”

Whitmore admitted GMs were skeptical these goalie equipment changes would be any more successful than previous attempts. He compared it to the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray suffers through the same events over-and-over again. The difference this time is the buy-in of the NHLPA and the goalies themselves.

The real test, however, will be if the equipment manufacturers can’t deliver the new stuff on time. Netminders need it by the summer for practice, and Whitmore said “the next month is crucial” for the prototypes to be finalized/approved. In the past, the equipment companies drove this bus, at times telling the league things couldn’t be done on time. Are we finally at the point where the NHL dictates the schedule?

26. One of the proposals for changing the draft lottery is always allowing the 30th-place team to win, but preventing anyone who finishes better than that from leaping to the top spot more than once every three or five years. I’d be surprised if any such attempt gets introduced this year. Last season, the NHL changed the odds, and this season, it will draw for the top three draft selections, not just first overall. My guess is it wants to see how this year’s draw works out before agreeing to any further changes.

27. Back in October, we looked at the contract of Toronto Marlies forward Justin Johnson, who had a unique bonus plan with the club. Johnson would benefit as follows: $5,000 (these are in Canadian dollars) for every Marlie who scores 20 goals; $5,000 for every Marlie who reaches 50 points; $2,500 based on the success of the power-play and penalty kill; and $2,500 for everyone who plays 10 games with the Marlies and 15 with the Maple Leafs.

The FAN’s Andrew Walker took a detailed look at these bonuses last week as the AHL season moves towards its conclusion. Mark Arcobello and T.J. Brennan both hit 20 goals and 50 points, which adds $20,000. Brendan Leipsic needs three goals and seven points. Josh Leivo six goals and 10 points. Arcobello, Rich Clune and Scott Harrington have hit the 10/15 game total, adding another $7,500. Garret Sparks needs five more NHL appearances to make it, while Zach Hyman, William Nylander and Nikita Soshnikov require six.

28. The only drawback: Nylander and Soshnikov’s big-league trials may prevent them from growing this number even more. Both have 18 AHL goals, and Nylander has 45 points. There are three more Marlie regular-season games after the Maple Leafs end their schedule, though. More counting for Walker, if he can go that high.

29. NHL Network had a good little bit with Jim Rutherford’s son, James, who, like his father, is a goalie. Don’t most former goalies try to convince their children to avoid the position like the plague?

“I tried,” the GM said in Boca Raton. “I told him only one or two make it per team. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be one of those guys.’”

Excellent confidence. James Rutherford has also picked up a habit from Marc-Andre Fleury: Whenever he gives up a goal, he skates into the corner to shake it off and reset.

30. Earlier this season, Pittsburgh came to Toronto for a game. In attendance at the morning skate was a young fan named Dalton Jacques, a huge Penguins (and Sidney Crosby) fan who was given the honour of meeting the player and the team. (Crosby asked for the cameras not to run when he met the boy.) Last week, Jacques died after a battle with cancer. He was 15. In Welland, Ont., members of his minor hockey team, the Tigers, lined the Main Street Bridge as the procession went from church to funeral home. Tuesday night, the bridge was lit up in gold, the colour of his favourite team. All the best to Dalton’s family and his friends.